The Hurricanes picked up their twelfth win of the Super Rugby season on Saturday as they saw off the Blues 29-5 with a bonus-point in Auckland.
Victory puts the Wellington franchise thirteen points ahead of their closest rival, the Chiefs, who sit fourth overall in the standings, with another confident performance adding further weight to claims they are serious title contenders.
Chris Boyd was hit by a late blow before kick-off when right wing Cory Jane was ruled out, so a reshuffle saw Otere Black come in at fly-half and James Marshall moved to full-back. Nehe Milner-Skudder shifted into Jane's shirt ahead of a game that was affected by the wet weather.
Because of the rain it wasn't a high-scoring affair early on, far from it as the first 34 minutes would see just three Black points on the card.
However, a late first-half onslaught on the home line saw Hurricanes prop Chris Eves and scrum-half TJ Perenara both cross to send the visitors in at the break with a comfortable 17-0 advantage. Black had settled in calmly in the fly-half position, landing three kicks from three efforts.
Black's first points came in the ninth minute when Blues lock Josh Bekhuis was penalised for coming offside, but there was no further score for 25 minutes as both sides struggled to deal with the slippery ball. It has to be said that the 'Canes were enjoying most of the territory though.
That territorial dominance was finally rewarded late in the half when loosehead prop Eves crashed over from close range and when Perenara did the same three minutes later, suddenly the table-toppers had themselves a handy seventeen-point cushion heading into the dressing room at Eden Park.
Fourteen minutes after the break their lead had grown to 24 points when Perenara set up hooker Dane Coles on the left wing, who finished very well. Black again was on target off the tee as Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan was forced to change personnel in his camp, with Keven Mealamu, Simon Hickey and Matt Vaega thrown on in place of James Parsons, Ihaia West and Francis Saili in an attempt to finally get on the scoreboard.
It proved successful as the new midfield combination broke the 'Canes defence, with George Moala setting up replacement Vaega on the left wing.
At 5-24 down with fifteen minutes to play, the Blues' task was still a great one and that was about to become impossible thanks to a moment of magic from the Hurricanes. Milner-Skudder was the man finishing off superbly near the corner flag after a lovely offload from centre Rey Lee-Lo as the visitors sealed victory.
Tries: Eves, Perenara, Coles, Milner-Skudder
Con: Black 3
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Brendon O'Connor, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Angus Ta’avao, 18 Nic Mayhew, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Joe Edwards, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Matt Vaega.
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Otere Black, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Ben May, 18 Tolu Fahamokioa, 19 Mark Abbott/Callum Gibbins, 20 Brad Shields, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Vaea Fafita.
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant Referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Aki Aso
TMO: Aaron Paterson