The Blues are now on a head-spinning 11-game winning streak and finals time can’t come quickly enough now Beauden Barrett has his sizzle back.
The injury-ravaged Queensland Reds were the latest victims on Saturday when they were dumped 53-26 at Auckland’s Eden Park.
So what did we learn about a side on a hot streak and another on a flat 0-4 run against Kiwi opponents?
1 VUNIVALU FIRES AT LAST
We’ve got to start with a high point from the Reds and there were very few.
Reds coach Brad Thorn has admirably encouraged patience any time SuliasiVunivalu’s quiet return to rugby has been mentioned.
This was the pay-off. The surge in confidence will be huge for the classy winger now he has his first truly positive match under his belt after a long lay-off for two hamstring surgeries.
He was instrumental in the Reds’ two first half tries. He was switched on and used his strength to score the first himself off a Tate McDermott switch pass close to the line.
On half-time, he blew through All Blacks winger Caleb Clarke with an excellent run and was patient enough to pop a good pass from the turf. Lock Ryan Smith scored from the next play.
He also threw three defenders before throwing the last pass inside for the second Jock Campbell try.
These were the first hints of the season that will excite the Wallabies selectors.
Lock Smith was a non-stop worker, including a team-high 14 ball-carries. Halfback Tate McDermott had a strong first half and winger Jordan Petaia (10 runs for 66m) ripped in as the class act he is.
The flipside was No.8 Seru Uru. He made two trademark pick-and-goes which he kept rolling with good offloads.
He spilt two balls that directly led to tries by the clinical Blues. This wasteful Reds’ streak ruined them as well as 28 missed tackles.
Super Rugby Pacific is at its best when the competition’s marquee players fire.
It was great to see All Blacks star Beauden Barrett in such rich form. His speed is still breathtaking to watch.
He scooted by Angus Blyth just after half-time on one run. In the follow-up play, fullback Stephen Perofeta dabbed through a grubber kick that Barrett swooped on.
It’s hard to believe it was only flyhalf Barrett’s second try of the season.
That slick two-try spurt from the Blues in five minutes to open the second half was the Auckland-based side at full throttle.
3 FINALS EQUATION FOR THE REDS
The Reds have no chance now of hosting a home quarter-final after four straight losses.
They desperately need a win at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night in their final home game of 2022 against last-placed Moana Pasifika.
Most of all, it will reverse the losing mood, pep up confidence and give the side some positive momentum with the finals approaching.
As it stands, the Reds are likely to head into a sudden-death quarter-final on the road against the Crusaders, Brumbies or Chiefs.
4 CROWD APPEAL
It was great to see a crowd of nearly 20,000 at Eden Park to soak up the success of this Blues side.
For years the ground was a ghost town while the Blues spluttered with inconsistent mid-table seasons.
The Blues play a terrific brand of rugby for their fans. That’s 19 tries in two weeks in thrashing the Melbourne Rebels and the Reds.
5 JAMES O’CONNOR’S RETURN
James O’Connor made an encouraging return from injury at flyhalf. He was composed and produced some nice plays for a side that was totally outgunned.
His neat pass to put Jock Campbell over for his first try midway through the second half was typical stuff.
The Reds’ depth was stretched to the limit. Emergency man Albert Anae threw the ball in as poorly as the fifth-string hooker he is and a full Wallabies backrow (Liam Wright, Fraser McReightand Harry Wilson) was missing.
The Reds are also highly unlikely to see influential prop Taniela Tupou (calf) again this season