A three-game Super Rugby winning streak culminating in a 24-15 victory against the dangerous Hurricanes in Wellington has confirmed the Blues’ long-awaited improvement.
The latest, following wins in South Africa against the Bulls and powerful Stormers, demonstrated real character within a strong tackling performance which would have warmed the cockles of defence coach Tana Umaga’s heart.
Especially pleasing was the 13 tackles made by Akira Ioane in his first start of the season following the heroics of Hoskins Sotutu.
Looking much fitter and hungrier than he did in last year’s Mitre 10 for Auckland, Ioane looked as though he wants to realise his enormous potential by increasing his workload.
He’s a naturally-talented attacker but his laziness and failure to bend his back hurt his All Black prospects last year.
Sotutu’s outstanding form appears to have motivated Ioane into becoming the best he can be.
Along with electric wing Mark Telea he scored one of the Blues three tries, the third a penalty try which sealed the Hurricanes’ fate when Jordie Barrett was sin-binned for a premeditated knock-on.
With prop Tyrel Lomax red-carded after 47 minutes and Vaea Fifita also given a yellow, the Hurricanes indiscipline cost them dearly.
However there was still much to like about the Blues’ resolve in containing the hosts’ renowned backline attack which had run riot in previous games.
The lineout still needs work but the scrum is strong and halfback Sam Knox and first-five Otere Black are providing the swift pass and tactical direction that the team has craved for too long.
TJ Faiane is consistently outstanding and did a splendid job in containing menacing juggernaut Ngani Laumape.
With Tom Robinson, Blake Gibson, Dalton Papalii and Tony Lamborn joining Ioane and Sotutu, there is genuine loose forward depth.
With Joe Marchant and Rieko Ioane capable of playing wing or centre, Telea and fullback Perofeta complete an outstanding backline which will welcome Beauden Barrett on April 11 for the return match against the Hurricanes.
Four wins from six games is a proud record after kicking off the season with a narrow loss to the Chiefs. The Chiefs share four wins from five games with the Crusaders, who were flat in their 24-20 win against the Reds.
In contrast, the Chiefs were devastating in thrashing the hapless Waratahs 51-14 with speedy halfback Brad Weber leading the charge by scoring two of their seven tries.
Shaun Stevenson, Sean Wainui and Solomon Alaimalo also scored to emphasise the potency of their backline with champion flanker Lachlan Boshier notching the other.
The impressive Sharks lead the South African conference with five wins from six games and the Brumbies head the Australians with four from five.
With star fullback David Havili having had stomach surgery, the Crusaders have lost some of their sting and are no longer the force they were when they had All Blacks Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Matt Todd, Owen Franks and Ryan Crotty.
However, they should still remain a threat in what is shaping as a very even competition between the top eight teams, led by the Sharks on 20 points and the still dangerous Hurricanes eighth on 13.
Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer