The Blues, producing a three-try second-half blitz, blew the Highlanders away to record a 28-9 Super 14 Round Five victory and claim the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday.
The Highlanders held a 6-3 (all penalties) lead at the half-time break - but tries in the 42nd, 64th and 70th minutes saw the Blues race a away to a comfortable win.
The victory also entrenched the Blues at the top of the Super 14 standings.
It was a gripping match, more gripping than the half-time score suggests and more gripping than the final score suggests. The half-time score was bizarre as the Highlanders led 6-3. The final score suggests an easy win for the suave Blues.
It was not an easy win and to start off with they were not suave at all. they started with feverish self-destruction, conceding three penalties in the first six minutes - troy Flavell for a tackle around Jimmy Cowan's jaw, Greg Rawlinson for a shoulder in on a defenceless player and then David Gibson for hacking the ball in the Highlanders'' scrum. those three penalties made a 6-0 lead for the Highlanders who started as they had finished against the Stormers, running the ball with purpose and enthusiasm.
After that the Blue machine took over and the Highlanders defended making tackle after tackle.
If there were medals for bravery they should all go to Jimmy Cowan. It did not matter where they were or how big they were, Cowan brought them down. On two occasions he brought them down in his own in-goal and got his body under the ball to prevent the try.
the Highlanders were brave, the Blues incisive, none more so than Isaia Toeava who was fast and strong and made the early incisions for the Blues, setting them on the path to winning the Gordon Hunter trophy.
After a strong run by Toeava Doug Howlett lost the ball in Craig Clare's tackle at the line. then Daniel Braid won a turn-over as Cowan tried to run away from a rickety Highlanders' scrum and the ball went wide left where Rudi Wulf should have scored but opted to goose step and was bundled into touch.
When the Blues won a Highlanders' line-out Toeava was over the line, but Cowan curled foetally under him and prevented the try.
Because of their own bad mood and the Highlanders courage the Blues, great finishers, were finishing badly.
Luke McAlister kicked a penalty when Josh Blackie was penalised and half-time came with the score 6-3. Half-time came, too, with Clare carried off on a stretcher with an ankle injury which looked serious. His place was taken by young James Wilson who went to fullback with Glen Horton at centre..
The Blues started the second half with greater composure than they had started the first and imposed themselves on the Highlanders with greater physicality and speed.
From a line-out on their left the Blues went wide and Toeava was too fast and too strong as he beat Glen Horton on the outside.
But the Highlanders battered their way back and Evans goaled a third penalty to put the Highlanders 9-8 ahead. But there was much too much of the match left for them to last.
When Horton hung on in a tackle, a long penalty by McAlister on 52 minutes the muscular inside back put his side ahead for the first time in the match.
The Highlanders were on the attack after Cowan won a turn-over at a tackle but Lucky Mulipola was just out as the charged with promise down the left wing.
Howlett had a great break going left and Wulf was again tackled out near the corner. the next Blues score was a penalty goal to make the lead 14-9 after 59 minutes.
When Wilson's clearing kick from behind his line ended over his dead-ball line, the Blues had a five-metre scrum to the right of the posts. Toeava cut through powerfully. Knocked to ground by Cowan, he fell, stretched and scored to the left of the posts. McAlister converted. 21-9.
After this the Highlanders defence faltered somewhat, understandably in view of the numerous tackles they had made and Flavell was on hand to take an inside pass from Jerome Kaino and score. 28-9.
Then the Highlanders got their courage back and gave as good as they got for the last minutes of the match, denying the Blues a bonus point.
Man of the Match: For all the bustling purpose of Troy Flavell and Jerome Kaino and the incisiveness of Isaia Toeava, Doug Howlett and Isa Nacewa, but our Man of the Match is Jimmy Cowan who kept his side in the match and made it such a fascinating encounter.
For the Blues:
Tries: Toeava 2, Flavell
Cons: McAlister 2
Pens: McAlister 3
For the Highlanders:
Pens: Evans 3
Blues: 15 Ben Atiga, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 David Gibson, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Angus Macdonald, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Derren Witcombe, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau.
Replacements: 16 Sam Biddles, 17 Nick White, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Steve Devine, 21 Sam Tuitupou, 22 George Pisi.
Highlanders: 15 Glen Horton, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Craig Clare, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Craig Newby, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Josh Blackie (c), 5 James Ryan, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason MacDonald, 1 Clarke Dermody
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Filipo Levi, 19 Hale T-Pole, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Aaron Bancroft, 22 James Wilson
Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand), Willie Roos (South Africa)
Television match official: Josh Noonan (New Zealand)
Assessor: Alan Riley (New Zealand), Dennis Immelman (South Africa)