Beauden Barrett's grimace said everything about the Blues' contentious escape against the Chiefs, and the torrid nature of the brutal Kiwi derbies.

Battered but not beaten, Barrett was in obvious discomfort as he winced while sitting down and standing up during a brief post-match appearance following the Blues 21-17 victory at Eden Park on Sunday.

Already with his head tapped after sustaining a gash in the loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington the previous week, Barrett took several heavy blows against the Chiefs. The worst came five minutes from the end of the match, with a cleanout damaging Barrett's ribs.

Asked whether he would be fit to make the trip to Dunedin this week Barrett, knowing full well the response would be to harden up, said: "Depends if I talk to dad or not."

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In his maiden appearance at No 10 for the Blues, and indeed his first time in the driver's seat in any team for almost one year, Barrett showed glimpses of class in his preferred position when he took the ball flat and challenged the line in the first half. He also kicked three conversions - two from near the sideline.

Expect more to come from both the 29-year-old dual world player of the year and the Blues who, other than their opening two-try burst, failed to ignite their attacking weapons against the Chiefs.

"I really enjoyed getting a few more touches and getting to control things in terms of calling the plays," Barrett said of his shift from fullback to first-five. "We didn't get the flow we wanted and we didn't execute well enough with our lineout strike opportunities."

Fitness permitting, it would be a surprise to see the Blues move Barrett from the 10 role now given Blues coach Leon MacDonald's assessment of his game.

"I thought he was great. He took the ball hard to the line," MacDonald said. "We looked dangerous when we were able to build phases. He looks a bit sore. He took quite a heavy blow to the chest so hopefully that's okay but he'll be happy with his effort first up."

With Dan Carter expected to make his Blues debut against the Highlanders, and Otere Black likely to be over his neck complaint, there's no shortage of playmakers for MacDonald to select.

"That will be a big discussion point."

Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett share a laugh after Sunday's Super Rugby Aotearoa clash. Photosport
Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett share a laugh after Sunday's Super Rugby Aotearoa clash. Photosport

His position aside, Barrett knows the Blues must significantly lift standards to remain in contention.

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"We are a bit frustrated because we know how good we can be but we're simply not executing as well as we would like. We know there's plenty in the tank, there's so much potential within the group. It's just about being a little bit more composed and nailing our skills under pressure.

"We put a lot of planning into games like this so to not be able to execute our plan was a little bit frustrating. We saw a lot of errors and our discipline was pretty poor.

"The boys showed plenty of grit at the end there to hold out a determined Chiefs side.

"It just shows how much it means to play for our fans and play well here at Eden Park especially with the previous two weeks with things not going our way we were determined to put it right."

The Blues were fortunate to eke out this vital victory. Josh Goodhue's match-winning breakdown penalty was debatable as to whether he was on his feet – and the Chiefs were adamant their No 8 Pita Gus Sowakula scored with a late surge which left the visitors seething after referee Brendon Pickerill opted not to use technology to check grounding.

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From a competition perspective, the Hurricanes upset in Christchurch on Saturday night and the Blues rebounding from successive defeats sets the scene for a fascinating final three rounds in which the Crusaders, who have a game in hand, Blues and Hurricanes can all claim the title.

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Despite deflecting to the Blues this season, Barrett enjoyed his former team's inspired performance.

"It's great isn't it? It was a great game of footy. The Canes went down there and threw everything at the Crusaders which you have to do. I loved their intent and the game it was."

MacDonald, meanwhile, doesn't have to trawl the stats sheets to source areas of improvement. His side's 15 penalties - to the Chiefs' 6 - is the clear area which stunned so much of their attacking flow and probably should have cost them the contest.

"We reviewed it pretty honestly last week and there were a few shots fired in the meeting room. We worked hard and were pretty good during the week so we're going to have to be better there. We've got no option but to improve. We'll make sure we get it right during the week and I'd like to see some good change during the games."

Beauden Barrett. Photo / Photosport
Beauden Barrett. Photo / Photosport

While Barrett, Carter and the in-form Ioane brothers hog much of the headlines around the Blues, MacDonald reserved special praise for All Blacks prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi who sparked Finlay Christie's second half strike with a burst up the middle of a ruck.

"We measure basically how hard they work and he's been setting records for tighthead props and he wants to keep going he gets disappointed when he comes off at the 60 minute mark.

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"That's through pure hard work and determination so he'll be asking the All Blacks some good questions.

"I know if someone is about to carry the ball and they see him in-front of them there's a lot of tip passes because he can hit hard. His scrummaging and mobility has been outstanding. He is the all-round package, and he's hungry to get better so long may this continue."

Sitting in second, two points behind the Crusaders, the Blues are content for now but so, too, do they realise the result against the Chiefs could easily have gone the other way.

"Although as a coach you want a perfect performance, you want to see the ball moving into space and guys running onto it nicely, the reality of this competition with the momentum swings sometimes it's about showing how much heart you've got as a team and we did that today."