You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Last night's showdown was meant to be the Blues' moment of truth, but 80 minutes later, there is still plenty of doubt whether a true Super Rugby playoff contender exists in Auckland.
Searching for a fifth consecutive victory, the Blues did indeed make it five in a row - five straight away losses - as the Chiefs clung on to a 33-29 win in Hamilton.
On one hand, it was the same old Blues in their first test of whether they were true contenders. Having not beaten the Chiefs in 14 games, and not victorious in an away New Zealand derby since 2013, the Blues needed to prove they could produce in more than just home comforts.
Ultimately, they didn't - and those lengthy winless streaks could continue to be a fatal flaw. Yet, with all that said, there are still reasons to retain hope. Once again, they were in the contest right down to the final minute – where a Jed Brown knock-on eventually saw their attempted comeback fall short - and their upcoming trips to play the out-of-form Highlanders and lowly Brumbies won't inspire fear.
It would be hard to deny the Chiefs' victory wasn't deserved though, and one that has to put at least a slight dampener on all the optimism building around the Blues of late. Sure, their four victories were impressive, but all came at home, against teams currently outside the top six in the standings.
While they had their moments, this time they didn't have the close-game variance fall their way. Most impressively for the Chiefs – or perhaps worryingly for the Blues – is the fact they triumphed despite losing Damian McKenzie to a concerning knee injury. The All Blacks utility hobbled off in the 41st minute, after seemingly twisting his knee when trying to corral Otere Black at high speed.
He had been such a factor in steering the Chiefs to a 14-10 halftime lead that it stood to reason that his unfortunate absence could be a boost for the Blues' chances of continuing their recent rise. Instead, McKenzie's replacement - Ataata Moeakiola – crossed just two minutes later, giving the Chiefs a buffer that was tested, but never overcome.
While Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi had their way early on with Angus Ta'avao and Nepo Laulala at scrum time, the Chiefs were more dangerous when running with the ball. They had a hand from the Blues' blunders – James Parsons' attempted inside ball was intercepted by Brad Weber for a runaway try, but the Chiefs also produced some magic, with a delightful 14-phase move being finished off by Lachlan Boshier.
Still, the Blues do seem to have more fight about them than prior iterations. Melani Nanai struck back after the halftime hooter to put them in touch, and while some silky Anton Leinert-Brown moves saw Moeakiola crash over, the Blues weren't done.
Ma'a Nonu crossed twice – turning back the clock by barging through four defenders for one of them – and Rieko Ioane also displayed a deft touch to plant down in the left corner. In between, Boshier benefited from superb skills from Sean Wainui to notch his double, and Jesse Parete also crossed in the corner, keeping the Chiefs in front, but by a slender margin.
The Blues threw one last effort at the hosts, but this time, it wasn't to be. And, as one winning streak ends, another – the Chiefs have now won three on the trot – blossoms.
Chiefs 33 (L Boshier 2, B Weber, A Moeakiola, J Parete tries; D McKenzie 2 cons, M McKenzie 2 cons)
Blues 29 (M Nonu 2, M Nanai, R Ioane tries; O Black 2 cons, pen, H Plummer con)