Blake Gibson's achievement of the near impossible when running over the top of World Cup-winning fullback Ben Smith for a try was a defining moment of the Blues' victory over the Highlanders, but the flanker believes the key to his team's opening night success was something much less tangible - a willingness to work hard for each other that perhaps wasn't there last year.

"I think our standards and worth ethic have increased," he said. "Maybe we used to fade off but now we're probably a bit mentally stronger and we just keep working for each other and I think that showed out there on Friday."

Asked whether the new attitude under coach Tana Umaga was applicable during the match at Eden Park, a come-from-behind 33-31 victory over the defending champions, or in preparation, Gibson said: "It has started at training. Our whole worth ethic has changed from last year, I believe, and we're willing to go the extra mile for our teammates out there."

The sentiments from Gibson, who will turn 21 next month, are significant, because last year, one of the worst in Blues' history, there were rumours of poor attitudes among some of the younger players in the squad.


One well-placed source told the Herald there was a feeling among some of the newer members of the squad that working hard - especially on skills outside of the main training sessions - was considered "uncool", a stance which clearly has no place in professional sport and which probably contributed to the fact that the team won only three games last season.

It is early days, as the Blues players have constantly told themselves after their early success, but Umaga's no-nonsense message appears to be getting through, just as Gibson did in a remarkable show of pace and strength when evading the clutches of All Black No15 Smith.

Receiving the ball from halfback Bryn Hall 25m out from the Highlanders' line, Gibson first evaded No10 Lima Sopoaga and then ran straight at Smith, who went too high on the rampaging No7. Gibson bounced him off and then went over for the converted try that handed his side a 14-10 lead, revealing later that some frustration might have played a part in a score which has been repeated in countless highlights packages ever since.

"Whenever I get the ball like that I try to run as hard as I can," Gibson said. "I sort of just popped up and maybe he wasn't expecting me to get to him as quickly as I did. I was just lucky to get one over him, I think. I got penalised for jumping early and I think that was against Ben so maybe I was a little bit angry."

There is also the not insignificant fact that Gibson played only once for Auckland last season, a knee injury in the first match against Southland ruling him out for the rest of a year which included the highlights of a New Zealand Under-20s world championship victory in Italy, and a try for the Barbarians against the New Zealand Maori on Eden Park on his return.

Paul Feeney, who was Gibson's coach at Auckland last year and is now an assistant under Umaga at the Blues, said: "He hasn't played a lot of rugby for the past nine to 12 months but everyone knows Blake is earmarked for things to come if he keeps on working hard.
"The kid can play. I don't like to put names on people but for me he's a young Sam Cane in the making.

"The injury last year was hard on him and he may have been taking out some of that frustration on Friday but don't be surprised to see him play like that week-in and week-out."

Gibson's next opportunity is likely to come against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday. He played in the fixture last year, coming off the bench in a defeat for the Blues, but counts playing against the now retired Richie McCaw as one of the highlights of his career.