The Blues booked their place in next week's Super Rugby semi-finals with a 26-13 victory over the injury-ravaged Waratahs on Friday.
The Blues booked their place in next week's Super Rugby semi-finals with a 26-13 victory over an injury-ravaged Waratahs outfit in Auckland on Friday.
While the Blues still do not know whether they will be in Brisbane or Cape Town in eight days time, they will arrive in either city a confident outfit.
Scores from Lachie Munro and Ali Williams saw them progress while the hobbling 'Tahs hit back with tries from Tom Carter and Lachie Turner.
But it wasn't enough for Chris Hickey's side as his depleted stocks ultimately took its toll in the end.
It had been well documented this week that the Waratahs were suffering, with the likes of Tatafu Polota-Nau, Daniel Halangahu, Al Baxter and Luke Burgess joining Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell and Wycliff Palu on the sidelines. Those problems saw a part-time shopping mall security guard named in their matchday 22 while Kurtley Beale moved forward into the 10 jersey, if only on attack so as not to cage his lethal running ability.
However, the Wallaby sensation did not enjoy a strong opening to the game as a string of errors blighted his early performance. First his kick-off went dead in-goal before he lost possession twice more. But as they say, class is permanent, and Beale improved.
Despite all of their injury woes the Waratahs were slowly beginning to grow into matters and showed their experience by playing much the better knockout rugby. And it was they who struck first when numbers were worked on the left side, with Ryan Cross making the initial bust before feeding midfield partner Tom Carter, who held off a weak tackle attempt from Luke McAlister. Beale missed the touchline extras but the 'Tahs had silenced Auckland.
That try was the only thing that troubled the scorers during the first quarter before the hosts finally came out of their shell courtesy of a backline move of their own. It came via quick hands from Jared Payne and Luke McAlister, which ended up in the grasp of the grateful Munro. Phil Waugh was not so kind and was lucky not to see yellow for sliding in late.
Penalties were then traded up until half-time with the score at 13-8 to the Blues. Things then worsened for the Waratahs as Sitaleki Timani joined lock team-mate Kane Douglas on the matchday treatment table, with all the momentum now swinging the way of the hosts.
Munro's third penalty gave the Blues an eight-point lead and when Williams' try was tallied just after the hour, they found themselves a 23-8 up while the Waratahs were on the ropes.
Spirit was shown by the 'Tahs though in the closing stages as they carded a second score of their own after Cross fixed the last man before feeding Turner in the corner. But it was the Blues who had the final say, McAlister putting the seal on their progression with a long-range strike that ended their opponents season and possibly Waugh's career.
Man-of-the-match: While lock partner Anthony Boric dominated the takes at line-out time for the Blues, he also disrupted John Ulugia's throwing. However, we've gone for Ali Williams, who continued his fine comeback in a World Cup year with a try in a typically workmanlike performance at the coalface. A mention too for the ever-improving openside Luke Braid.
Tries: Munro, Williams
Con: McAlister, Munro
Pen: Munro 3, McAlister
Tries: Carter, Turner
Blues: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Lachie Munro, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Charlie Faumuina.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Chris Lowrey, 19 Daniel Braid, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Winston Stanley, 22 Sherwin Stowers.
Waratahs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Atieli Pakalani, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Soseni Anesi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Josh Holmes, 8 Dave Dennis, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Pat O'Connor, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Hugh Perrett, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Bernard Foley.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Stuart Dickinson, Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
By Adam Kyriacou