Plenty to like about Blues' performance despite coming off second best against Super rugby's big title hope.

The Blues' hopes of making the playoffs were on a knife edge before last night's defeat to the Sharks. Now they have been filleted and sliced and diced for good measure by the men from Durban who look increasingly like championship material.

And yet, while they will need several miracles to feature in the finals, it's not all bad news for John Kirwan's outfit, who saw their winning run at home this season come to an end in front of 14,500 at North Harbour Stadium, at least half of whom sounded like they were cheering for the visitors.

The Blues were beaten, yes, and for the 10th consecutive time by the Sharks, but they were up against a table-leading team who punish mistakes like an old-fashioned gin trap to a rabbit - accurate, cruel and, ultimately, deadly.

The Sharks have flaws, though, and chief among them is the determination to push the referee to the limit with their unwillingness to respect the offside line or release the tackled player.


After the red card to Jean Deysel and yellow to Willem Alberts last weekend in Christchurch, last night both Jannie du Plessis and Francois Steyn spent time in the bin. Their reputation could precede them yet.

There was inaccuracy from the home side, but there was also fight. Jerome Kaino's tackle on openside flanker Lubabalo Mtembu was one for the ages. The poor Mtembu is unlikely to remember it.

Elsewhere, Kaino was simply immense. He appears back to his World Cup form of 2011; perhaps the time spent recently in the All Blacks' training squad was the final spark he needed to get there after his stint in Japan.

Keven Mealamu, Luke Braid, Charlie Faumuina and Peter Saili followed Kaino's example, if not quite in deeds, then in intent. It was a world away from the lacklustre defeats to the Hurricanes or Chiefs.

There was real hope among the Blues that Braid's try just after halftime could have been a game changer, the home side taking advantage of Jannie du Plessis' yellow card to force a scrum - perhaps determined to do what the Crusaders couldn't last weekend - and the skipper going under the posts after a Kaino charge.

Simon Hickey's conversion put the Blues in striking distance at 16-13, but another Francois Steyn penalty and some bad luck when halfback Cobus Reinach took advantage of a hack through ultimately put paid to that.

Back came the Blues, though, Ma'a Nonu providing the final pass for Tevita Li to score in the left corner, Ihaia West expertly converting from the sideline.

A West penalty cancelled out SP Marais' three-pointer which punished Sam Prattley's rush of blood in front of his own posts.

A measure of the Sharks' anxiety in the final minutes was their yelling at their team to kick the ball into the stand, ever aware of the Blues' threat on the counter. There wasn't enough of that - Kirwan is missing injured fullback Charles Piutau - but the guts and determination among the forwards almost made up for it.

Sharks 29 (Bismarck du Plessis, Cobus Reinach tries; Francois Steyn 3 pen, 2 con, drop goal, SP Marais pen)

Blues 23 (Luke Braid, Tevita Li tries; Simon Hickey 2 pen, con, Ihaia West con, pen). HT: 16-6