For all the growth and promise they've shown this season, the Blues have yet to overcome the glaring problem that has plagued them for years.

Last night's 24-12 defeat to the Highlanders was the 23rd straight time they've gone on the road to face a fellow Kiwi side, only to travel back to Auckland without a victory.

It's a desolate stretch - six years and counting, and three different coaches have yet to find an answer to the Blues' road woes.

Their results have been even worse in Dunedin, where they haven't won since 2011, with the Highlanders comfortably retaining their stranglehold on the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy.


Better was expected this time. While there is justifiable scepticism over whether the Blues are a playoff team, they are at least an improved side, and in their last six trips to Dunedin they had come within 10 points on each occasion. And, considering the Highlanders hadn't won since February and were languishing third-last on the ladder, this clash would have been targeted by the Blues as the chance to finally snap their streak.

They dominated the early running as well, throwing deft passes and attempting tricky offloads. The Highlanders initially defended the barrage of set plays, with Liam Coltman especially active at the breakdown. However, the pressure paid off after 22 minutes, when Ma'a Nonu found a hole, drew in the last Highlanders defender and fed Tom Robinson for the first points of the night.

That seemed to spark the hosts into life – Caleb Clarke had to come to the Blues' rescue to save a try after a chargedown, but Shannon Frizell charged over from close range to put the Highlanders in front, and they should have extended their lead before the break.

Ben Smith of the Highlanders evades the Blues defence. Photo / Getty
Ben Smith of the Highlanders evades the Blues defence. Photo / Getty

Tevita Li butchered a surefire try, knocking the ball on with the line begging, Sio Tomkinson was run down by Melani Nanai after poaching an intercept, and a poor offload attempt five metres out went astray, ensuring the Blues would go into halftime down by only two points.

That was as close as they'd get though, as the Highlanders dominated the second stanza. An attempted pushover scrum produced a penalty try, and six minutes later, Matt Faddes picked off a pass from halfback Sam Nock, and raced 50 metres untouched.

An unanswered 24 points later, they had sealed a comfortable victory, with the Blues only mustering a consolation try to Nanai as the hooter sounded.

They could prove to be four extremely valuable competition points, for as desperately as the Blues would have been targeting this match, the Highlanders were undoubtedly just as anxious to snap their own barren run, and the victory sees them jump past the Chiefs back into contention in the New Zealand conference.

They're also now just two points behind the Blues – who have to face three Kiwi derbies in their next four encounters. The honeymoon period is over for Leon MacDonald's men, and now we'll see what they're truly made of.


Highlanders 24 (S. Frizell, penalty try, M. Faddes tries; J Ioane 2 cons, pen)
Blues 12 (T. Robinson, M. Nanai tries; H. Plummer con)
HT: 7-5