After two matches against two of the more limited teams in the competition, it's back to reality for the Blues who now must prepare to play the Highlanders and then the Hurricanes, a fortnight which could reveal whether they are play-off material or not.

The Highlanders, who hardly needed to get out of fourth gear in dismantling the Rebels, will know exactly where the Blues are vulnerable.

Blues coach Tana Umaga, who watched as his side battled to a disappointing 24-15 victory over the Force at Eden Park, admitted the Highlanders will target his team's breakdown under the roof in Dunedin next Saturday.

The Blues' ball security was appalling - they gave up 21 turnovers to the Force - and then suffered a late defensive brain-fade which allowed the Force the final say with a try which denied the home side a bonus point, a criminal lapse and one which could come back to haunt them.


The Highlanders' attack hasn't fired this season, but it was their defence which allowed them to leave Eden Park with a 16-12 victory against the Blues in round three and if the Blues continue to lose the ball at such an alarming rate, one of the best counter-attacking sides in the competition could cut them to shreds.

"We're going to get a lot of heat in certain areas... around our ruck area," Umaga said. "We need to make sure we're very strong in that area in protecting the ball so we can build phases. We know we can play when we do that."

An afternoon kick-off on a glorious autumn Auckland day in front of a good crowd of 17,000 set the stage for the Blues to show that they had progressed from a week earlier when they left their run late against the Bulls.

Instead, their almost constant errors kept a team fighting for their Super Rugby survival in the match. Already there is a clear division between the New Zealand teams and the rest in this competition and another Kiwi side would probably have punished the Blues.

"We want to play, that's pretty obvious... [but we have to] break them down and work hard and wait for those opportunities," Umaga said.

"It's something we have to keep working on.

"In the last two games the level has been raised from the previous three games. It shows that we're still to improve and still finding our game and our feet.

"We're disappointed we missed out on that bonus point and disappointed we missed out on those opportunities that we did create; probably the option-taking - when to push the ball and when to be a bit more composed."

Umaga complained about the time-wasting tactics from the Force, who rarely missed an opportunity for a player to receive treatment of some sort only to make a quick recovery, saying that was a matter for the officials to look at, but fullback Michael Collins, who will return to Dunedin this week to play against many of his Otago teammates, said the Blues were culpable for the mistakes they made.

"All the errors were probably our fault again - a lack of holding on to the ball, a lack of continuity," Collins said. "That's our game and if we fix those things we'll be right.

"I spoke with one of the boys after and he said 'we've got nothing to lose, we're going to throw everything at it'. It's a good approach to have but with that comes errors and they were tired too."