Written by Max Sharp.
A first-half with plenty of pressure applied to the Blues' pack saw numerous handling errors and many disappointed Aucklanders, who evolved into a roaring crowd as the Blues eventually puffed their chests out towards a massive victory over the Highlanders. The modest halftime score of 14-6 grew to a 29-point victory margin of 35-6, Leon MacDonald will pleased at this, having lost Dalton Papali'i to a surgery in which his appendix was removed. As usual, let's read how the Blues went, from jersey 1 through to 23.
Blues Player Ratings
Loosehead Prop - Alex Hodgman (9/10)
Robbed of the Player of the Match award. Hodgman bashed his body around with no regards for it and this paid off, with his 6/7 tackles and 3 turnovers. Ran hard too, with 24 metres and 2 defenders beaten off 5 carries. Powerful in the rucks too. Would have been a rating of 10 if not for the missed tackle, but perfection is very rare.
Hooker - Kurt Eklund (8/10)
One of many Blues to do the basics well on Saturday, with 19 metres and 1 defender beaten off 5 carries. All of Eklund's lineout throws were successful, while he managed 14/15 tackles and 1 turnover. Definitely outplayed his opposite, Leni Apisai.
Tighthead Prop - Ofa Tu'ungafasi (3/10)
Has had a fantastic season but proved he is indeed human this evening. Both scrum collapses in the scrum on Tu'ungafasi, while he made just 2 carries for 7 metres and 2 tackles in a 53-minute performance.
Lock 4 - James Tucker (5/10)
The big man's 6 carries weren't quite as powerful as normal, Tucker was confined to just 8 metres. Managed 7 tackles and 1 turnover, but was subbed off at half time, with the coaches possibly perceiving the game as a bit directionless?
Lock 5 - Tom Robinson (7/10)
Normally a 6, but looked good at 5 this time. Robinson's athleticism hurt the Highlanders' defence line; his running metres were 29 from 6 carries. Hit all 7 of his tackle attempts and came back on from his first-half HIA to give some acceptable ruck speed. Good game.
Blindside Flanker - Akira Ioane (9/10)
Was shut down in the first 20 minutes, but burst to life with the opening try. Ioane went on to run 66 metres and make 1 clean break off 10 carries, while completing all 8 of his tackles, with a well-timed turnover to compliment it. A few more tackles would have been a 10/10.
Openside Flanker - Adrian Choat (6/10)
In for the captain and slotted in nicely on defence, with 14/15 tackles and 1 turnover. Got shut down on attack, with just 1 metre off 2 carries, but operated as a sixth tight-five forward by counter-rucking with a sense of purpose.
Number 8 - Hoskins Sotutu (9/10)
I perhaps didn't initially praise Sotutu's performance enough. Began the game with an immediate turnover, going on to win 2 more. 12/13 tackles will always be praised, while Sotutu's 38 metres and 6 defenders beaten off 9 carries were all good. Offered himself as an effective distributor too, with 12 passes and 3 offloads. Brilliant game for a big-game player.
Halfback - Finlay Christie (7/10)
Having this guy on the pitch is a cheat code, his passing is rarely ever bad. Christie did only go himself for 2 carries, but organised his side superbly, while still making 3/4 tackles. Ian Foster would likely be leaving Brad Weber out for Christie if this was still 2021.
First-Five - Beauden Barrett (8/10)
Kicked away far too much possession, but admitted to mistakes post-match. Was far more hands-on than his previous match, with 21 strong passes. Though average in the first half, he grew into the game and scored 2 tries, ran 80 metres, beat 6 defenders and made 1 clean break off a team-high 12 carries. Captaincy suited Barrett in this match, well done.
Left Wing - Mark Telea (6/10)
Only got a few opportunities but made them punishing. Telea's 39 metres, 2 defenders beaten and 1 clean break were off just 6 carries, while he would join nearby rucks. 3 tackles isn't too good, but he completed them all and made 1 turnover. Give him more ball next week.
Second-Five - Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (6/10)
Perhaps this will be controversial to type, but with all due respect, Tuivasa-Sheck's performance was just a wee above average. He was dead quiet in the first half and completely shut down, before the second half gave his stat chart a bit of hyper-inflation. His try, 79 metres and 2 clean breaks from 10 carries can be credited to Christie, Barrett and Perofeta's management. When beating the 7 defenders, Tuivasa-Sheck didn't go forward at all. Tackle completion was 8/11.
Centre - Rieko Ioane (8/10)
Another player to enable teammates. Ioane returned from injury to run 68 metres, beat 2 defenders and make 1 clean break from 8 carries. 2 of his 7 passes were try assists, while he engineered Tuivasa-Sheck's try. Perfect defence too, with 9/9 tackles. World class.
Right Wing - Bryce Heem (No rating)
The number 14 was substituted in the 27th minute due to injury and hadn't had too much involvement in the game, so won't be rated. Get well soon.
Fullback - Stephen Perofeta (8/10)
He's had a few cold moments in the season but was on fire for this big game. Brilliant attack with 116 metres, 6 defenders beaten and 1 clean break from 11 carries. Did not operate as a third distributor until the second half, but made 7 tackles and 1 turnover in a very good game.
Reserve Hooker - Soane Vikena (6/10)
The young number 16's 2021 Super Rugby debut, aged 19, has paid off as he was trusted to close this game out. Made 4 tackles and 1 turnovers in his 11 minutes, to help confirm the final scoreline.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Karl Tu'inukuafe (No rating)
As his days playing in New Zealand near the end, the former All Black will be glad to win. Played for 15 minutes and made just 1 metre off 1 carry and 1 tackle so won't be rated.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Nepo Laulala (4/10)
Didn't make any metres off his single carry but counter-rucked with energy. 3/5 tackles perhaps, isn't ideal though. Hopefully Laulala can return to the brilliant form he had in 2021 soon.
Reserve Lock - Luke Romano (7/10)
Gave his team a push towards victory by making 9/9 of his tackles in 40 minutes, while making a few intelligent calls for the team's lineout. Some will complain that Romano made a single metre off 4 carries, but the big picture was a good result.
Reserve Utility Forward - Josh Goodhue (6/10)
Dalton Papali'i's late withdrawal due to an appendix removal saw replacements named for each player in the tight-five. Goodhue had a good crack in his 13 minutes with 8 metres and 1 defender beaten off 3 carries. Didn't miss either of his 2 tackle attempts.
Reserve Halfback - Sam Nock (6/10)
Ran out for his 50th Blues match and delivered 17 accurate, quick passes to close out the match. Did the basics well and can be trusted to finish things in the semi-finals should Christie suffer an injury of some kind.
Reserve Outside Back - AJ Lam (7/10)
The 23-year-old number 22 probably played a few more minutes than expected and played them well. Effective around the field, with 4 passes and 1 offload back in-field, while scoring a try, running 26 metres, beating 2 defenders and making 1 clean break from 4 carries.
Reserve Utility Back - Zarn Sullivan (No rating)
On for Rieko Ioane in the 69th minute and didn't get enough involvement to be rated.