Blues deal Landers a reality check

Taufa Funaki of the Blues scores his sides's sixth try. Photo: Getty Images
Taufa Funaki of the Blues scores his sides's sixth try. Photo: Getty Images
Turns out you can take half a dozen All Blacks out of the Blues and they are still darn good.

The Blues held on to the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy with a 47-13 thumping of the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday night.

The home side chose to rest a handful of their best players, and others were scratched on game day.

It mattered little as they soaked up some Highlanders pressure in the first half before absolutely dominating the second.

The Blues were ruthless and physical, and they thoroughly deserved to return to the top of the Super Rugby table.

For the Highlanders, this was a reality check after their enjoyable little upswing in form, and a reminder they have made some positive progress this season but are still quite a way behind the best teams.

They did the odd thing well, and one or two things very well, but when the Blues turned on the pressure, they folded reasonably meekly.

Honours were effectively shared in the first half.

The Blues had a 21-13 lead, sure, but the Highlanders had scrambled well — particularly in the final 10 minutes — to prevent further damage.

There were some ominous early signs when the home side found some attacking punch and defensive gaps and scored through prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi after just four minutes.

Almost out of nowhere, the Highlanders scored one of the tries of the season from a trick lineout play.

Oliver Haig — really starting to flourish as a player of Super Rugby quality, and proving to be a fine option in the set piece — claimed possession and dropped it down to Sean Withy.

The Highlanders openside threw a dummy pass, ran to the right and tossed a no-look pass inside, where winger Timoci Tavatavanawai was waiting to run through the bamboozled defence.

There was a camera shot of Highlanders assistants Kenny Lynn and Tom Donnelly whooping in the coaches’ box, and fair enough.

Those mean old Blues gave the Highlanders precious little time to celebrate.

Corey Evans looked up, saw space and slotted through a delightful grubber, and Cole Forbes came flying through for the try.

A pair of Cameron Millar penalties, the young first five continuing his sparkling kicking form, made it a one-point game.

But the Blues would dominate the closing stages of the half, scoring a third try on the back of a couple of lineout drives and a classic hooker’s effort from Kurt Eklund.

The Highlanders produced the first highlight reel of the second half as halfback Folau Fakatava sliced open the defence before throwing a blind pass to a defender.

That felt like a missed opportunity, and any frustration was doubled when the Blues scored a fourth try.

They went left at pace, they went right at pace, and there was a special moment for winger Kade Banks as he scored a try on his Blues debut.

A 28-13 lead was handy and a 33-13 lead, when Eklund got a second from being shunter over the line, spelled game over.

The Highlanders, who emptied the bench early in search of a spark, had a nice attacking lineout but turned the ball over, and had an attacking scrum but were pinged for going early. Rather summed up the night, those two moments.

Blues reserve Taufa Funaki scored his side’s sixth try, and winger Caleb Clarke nabbed the seventh when he swooped on an awful Jake Te Hiwi pass.

It was in thrashing territory now, a bit of a shame considering the Highlanders had been competitive in the first half and had been coming off three straight wins.

They need to move on quickly as they host the Fijian Drua on Sunday in the game that will determine their playoff destiny.

The Highlanders remain seventh, just three points behind the Melbourne Rebels, who challenged the Chiefs before losing 26-23 in the late Friday game.

Two points behind the Highlanders are the Drua, who beat the Reds 28-19 in Suva.

The Brumbies were awarded a last-minute penalty try to beat the Crusaders 31-24, while the Force scored 27 unanswered points to beat the Waratahs 27-7 in the final game of the round.

Super Rugby

The scores

Blues 47

Kurt Eklund 2, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Cole Forbes, Kade Banks, Taufa Funaki, Caleb Clarke tries; Harry Plummer 6 con

Highlanders 13

Timoci Tavatavanawai try; Cameron Millar con, 2 pen

Halftime: Blues 21-13.