The Blues have a week off to mull over their disappointment of consecutive Super Rugby away losses against New Zealand teams, an unsuccessful streak which now stands at 23 matches.

And while they cling on to eighth place overall – the final playoff position – they will definitely drift down the table after next weekend.

Given the closeness of the competition and the fact that six teams, including the 13th-placed Highlanders and 14th-placed Chiefs, are within three competition points of the Blues, it is likely to be touch and go whether Leon MacDonald's team progress to the finals.

Further sobering news is the fact that two of their last four games are away matches against conference rivals the Crusaders and Hurricanes, the current top two teams in the country.

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It feels a long way from the highs of their fourth win at home – against the Waratahs three weeks ago. Now there will be pressure on MacDonald's men to halt the slide in their next game against the Brumbies in Canberra on May 4.

The Blues' latest source of frustration was a 24-12 reverse against the Highlanders under the roof in Dunedin, a defeat during which they were second-best defensively and at the breakdown. The margin was only 7-5 at halftime, the Blues firing in the opening quarter – but after the break the home side just seemed to want it more and so it went.

Ofa Tuungafasi dejected after the Blues' loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin. Photo / Photosport
Ofa Tuungafasi dejected after the Blues' loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin. Photo / Photosport

It was probably also a tale of two scrums. In the first half the Blues had a nailed-on attacking opportunity in the form of a 5m scrum which they fluffed and an intercept by halfback Kayne Hammington saw them scrambling instead.

Their second set piece disaster was the concession of a penalty try when they were defending a 5m scrum. Until that point their scrum had looked solid if not dominant.

"We were dominant all day apart from one scrum," said Blues hooker James Parsons. "I don't know what happened there. It's just unnecessary … and that's pretty much the story of the game."

It was, and rather than celebrating his 100th game for the Blues, there was the now familiar feeling of failure away from home for the 32-year-old Parsons. Last weekend they were beaten by the Chiefs in Hamilton.

They broke a curse against New Zealand teams by beating the Highlanders at Eden Park last month but their first win against Kiwi opposition on the road seems as far away as ever.

"We haven't played well away yet and that's something we need to address as a group," MacDonald said. "At home we're playing good rugby but we haven't away and that's something we need to address sooner rather than later.

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"I thought we had a really good week. It came down to critical moments. We had a lot of opportunities in the first half that we didn't convert. In the second half the game just slipped away from us through errors and their good play. They applied pressure and were tenacious at the breakdown. We just couldn't get it together really."

Ma'a Nonu's sparkling form appeared to be set to continue when he was heavily involved in the opening quarter, culminating in a trademark break and assist to send flanker Tom Robinson over, but the Blues didn't fire an attacking shot in the second half until Melani Nanai collected Harry Plummer's cross kick to go over seconds before the final hooter.

A leg injury – possibly an Achilles - to tighthead prop Sione Mafileo is more bad news for the Blues.