On a night they celebrated their success in the first year of the competition in 1996 in front of several of their heroes from that time, such as Michael Jones, Eroni Clarke and Joeli Vidiri, the Blues delivered a performance against the Sharks resonant of the old boys' spirit.

The team of '96 had quality all over the park but also an incredible will to win - personified by skipper Sean Fitzpatrick. Some of that was on display at Eden Park last night because until Rieko Ioane scored a spectacular solo try from 43m out, the Sharks appeared in complete control.

The men from South Africa were good, but the old bad habits appeared to be back for the Blues.

They lost last week against the Chiefs in Hamilton but turned in such an accurate and composed performance against the competition leaders it was felt a corner had been turned, and that a return to Eden Park to play the recent arrivals from the Republic would see them accelerate smoothly away.


Not quite. Young teams are often inconsistent, and this youthful Blues team is no exception. Often it seems they are on the cusp of something brilliant or something so scatterbrained you can scarcely believe it and so it proved against a Sharks team which is fairly limited in terms of attacking intent but sound in defence and in possession of some quality and experienced players.

Springboks fullback Willie Le Roux has pace and also the ability to make the right decisions in pressure moments - his break to put Paul Jordaan away looked to have kicked the Blues where it hurts for a 18-10 lead, but, while they struggled, this Blues team clearly have something about them and coach Tana Umaga has to take some credit for that.

The Blues enjoyed 73 per cent possession in the first half, but could neither find the space to make it count, nor play enough field possession to at least kick for goal should the visitors transgress.

Centre Rene Ranger tried, as he does, but he often ran into brick walls and the last one he hit late in the first half caused his left knee to buckle.

It looked as though their best attacking weapon had left the field, but the team responded as a whole, and Rieko Ioane in particular. The 19-year-old received a pass from his brother Akira just on the Sharks side of halfway, and showed strength to get through the defence and pace to get to the line.

There were 16 minutes remaining to defend a slim lead, or let slip another one, but in the end they did it quite comfortably.

The veterans of '96 would have approved.