We're now exactly halfway through the Super Rugby regular season and the Blues are still well in the playoffs mix despite their defeat to the Chiefs which snapped their four-game winning streak.

Good times? Not quite. The utter dismay shown by head coach Leon MacDonald and skipper Patrick Tuipulotu after the 33-29 loss at Waikato Stadium is probably a good indication of how far this team has come.

Never mind that it was one of the best matches of the season between two teams very much on a similar level, and that the Blues were never out of it despite the Chiefs enjoying a 21-10 lead shortly after the break in front of a noisy crowd of 15,000.

This was a Blues' failure, albeit one which earned them a losing bonus point, because a victory would have leapfrogged them over the Hurricanes and into fourth spot, and it was recognised as such. Instead of putting the pressure on their rivals in Wellington, they are in sixth, with the Jaguares, Stormers and Lions within two competition points of them.

Advertisement

"It hurts," Tuipulotu said. "This one definitely hurts. I know we could have won it fair and square but we let ourselves down at times.

"If we compare ourselves to where we were over the last couple of years, we're a lot further ahead," he said. "We're happy in that respect… but going into next week and another away game, we need to … go in on Monday and get things right."

An excellent scrum, a midfield in Ma'a Nonu and TJ Faiane which is getting better by the week, Rieko Ioane's try-scoring ability and Tom Robinson's habit of making a nuisance of himself – he earned the ire of Chiefs skipper Brodie Retallick by appearing to do little more than playing his natural game – meant the Blues were never subdued despite always chasing the game.

They just lacked a little polish and couldn't quite match their opponents, striving for their first home win of the season, at the breakdown. And while they hit back time and again, the Blues' habit of conceding points after scoring was terminal in the end.

"It's been a bit of a problem for us throughout the year - conceding point after scoring points ourselves," coach MacDonald said. "It's something we've talked about at length and worked hard on."

Their next opportunity to break their losing streak on the road against New Zealand teams comes next Saturday in Dunedin against a Highlanders side taught a second-half lesson by the Crusaders in Christchurch.

They won't lack for belief or quality and in Nonu, who scored two tries in the second half, they have a second-five at the top of his game at the age of 36 and with 166 Super Rugby matches behind him.

His blockbusting form in front of the All Blacks selectors was a continuation of the way he has building this season, and, while he wasn't included in the initial World Cup squad of 41, he is playing like a man on a mission.

"You can't take your radar off him because he can hurt you," Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said. "He showed everyone, not only us, that he can still deliver."

MacDonald said: "I'm glad I wasn't in the channel when he carried over the line. He was like a steam train wasn't he? He was good again."

While the battle of State Highway 1 stalled the Blues' momentum, it could provide the spark the Chiefs need to progress up the table. They are in 10th but still in striking distance of a playoffs place and for further inspiration they need look no further than Angus Ta'avao, a tighthead prop playing at loosehead who survived a yellow card warning for his scrum misdemeanors and then thrived.

Cooper said: "We knew if anyone could make that shift… it was massive for him. He's ticked a few boxes with the All Blacks, saying, 'well, now I can play both sides'."