Everyone would have settled for a decent performance from the Blues on opening night of Super Rugby and just enough cohesion and excitement to be convinced to turn up again.

But the Blues gave more than anyone expected: they had patience, structure, intuition and physical dominance. They were creative, organised and disciplined. They showed a depth of character and they persevered to work their way through some iffy moments. And they won.

As it happened: Blues v Highlanders

As opening nights go, new coach Tana Umaga could hardly have asked for more. Victory against the defending champions is the perfect way to mark a new beginning.


But while the result will be the thing that matters most to a fan base sick of hearing about improved cultures and great progress behind the scenes while the team gets thumped in full view, it was the nature of the performance that provides the better guide to what sort of season the Blues can expect.

The danger with assessing the Blues is that they do have sporadic nights when everything goes their way. Where they get away with making it up as they go along because the passes stick, the stars align and their natural talent prevails.

Certainly, as it turned out, that's what happened on the opening night of the John Kirwan coaching era; the Blues got lucky and fooled everyone into thinking they knew what they were doing.

For 80 glorious minutes on that opening night in 2013, it felt like a new era of achievement and fulfilment had arrived. It hadn't and the real story of the Kirwan era came in July 2015 - his last in charge - when an abject, hurriedly put together group of youngsters and club players were torn apart by the Highlanders.

No one ever thought, given the way it started, that the Kirwan era would end with so much broken and seemingly beyond repair, so it's not necessarily wise to believe the same thing can't happen to Umaga.

But, and maybe there is some gut feel helping sway this assessment, the Blues' opening performance, hinted at there being potential room for growth and development.

The bits that matter - that sustain a campaign - were solid. The lineout went well - a few scrappy moments but a couple of steals to balance it out.

Read more: Sensational start for Blues

By the second half the Highlanders looked a bit edgy on the touchline. They were felling the pressure, unsure where to throw. The Blues have height and experience among their jumpers and as they build in confidence, their lineout could become a weapon.

At the other key area - the tackled ball - they were aggressive and effective. Stealing turnover ball tends to be viewed as the criteria to define success, but most coaches are happy enough if their team can get through 80 minutes having mostly recycled their own ball.

Winning opposition ball is nice but continuity and momentum are more easily built on the back of retained possession.

If the Blues can push on from the benchmark they have set, then they can at least believe that they will, if nothing else, give themselves the opportunity to score points and be competitive in every game they play.

Then, perhaps the most significant difference compared with last year, was the impact and contribution of the bench. As fatigue took hold, the Blues could send out Rene Ranger, Charlie Faumuina and Akira Ioane and up the tempo and intensity. In the last quarter, the Highlanders looked frazzled - hurried when they were on the ball and frustrated at the linespeed of the Blues defence.

It was a near perfect start.

- By Gregor Paul at Eden Park