Blues finally end losing run against Lions
A collective, and temporary, sigh of relief was felt in Auckland as the beleaguered Blues dodged embarrassment with a 25-3 defeat of the Lions which finally ended seven-weeks of agony.
With the backdrop of coach Pat Lam's job being advertised, the Blues could have easily used that as another excuse for another poor performance.
They could have pointed to their nine injured players, or their uncertain future. But they didn't.
The clinical aspect was again absent and it sure wasn't pretty, but at least there was enthusiasm for the cause, possibly a pact to take some pressure off the under-siege Lam.
The Blues had never lost to the Lions, dating back to 2006. But if they were ever going to suffer the ignominy of defeat to the perennial cellar-dwellers of Super Rugby, there was a feeling this could be the night.
On the hallowed Eden Park turf, New Zealand's home of rugby no less, it couldn't get any worse than that dreaded scenario.
Thankfully, they weren't about to let that happen. The Lions didn't get close.
This was an average, low-grade contest between Super Rugby's basement batters. A hard watch is putting it mildly. The match will make few highlight reels with errors riddled throughout. But that's no surprise, unlike the starting return of All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock, who recovered from a calf strain, for a welcome 50-minute stint.
The sight of Charlie Faumuina being helped from field in the second half wasn't so welcome. After a strong season and with the ability to play both sides of the scrum, Faumuina could be out of All Blacks contention with what appeared to be a serious calf strain.
With the John Mitchell-Carlos Spencer led Lions on borrowed time - they are likely to be forced to merge with the Cheetahs with the introduction of the Southern Kings next year - having not won since round one and the Blues' losing streak dating two months, expectations were non-existent.
The terraces were closed to make the Blues' smallest crowd of the season
(10,127) appear less unflattering. But it didn't work. Support has been dwindling by the day and the supersized stadium looked near-deserted. Then again, the Blues' marketing department have had their work cut out this year. Seven straight defeats is a hard sell for anyone.
Restored to first five-eighths, Gareth Anscombe took control with heady decisions allowing the Blues to set-up camp on the Lions' line for much of the match. But their flat-lining confidence was evident in the lack of attacking potency. They repeatedly lurched laterally with no-one making defining impact and, therefore, only converted three of their many opportunities.
Michael Hobbs finished the only bright patch of the first spell after waltzing through some woeful defence for the opening try and the Blues held on for a 10-3 half-time lead.
With visiting wing Deon van Rensburg sin-binned for a cynical offense on his line, Alby Mathewson took advantage of a scrum error to scamper 30 meters which effectively sealed the result. Blues captain Luke Braid drove over for a late five-pointer. But little else was worth noting. The Blues' ill-discipline kept the out-of-their-depth Lions in the match when they should have been floored well earlier.
The Lions now seem set for another wooden spoon. That may have been the surest bet of the year. But with the Crusaders in Christchurch next week, the Blues won't be celebrating. This was a band-aid fix on a gaping wound.
Lions: Elton Jantjies pen
Blues: Michael Hobbs, Alby Mathewson, Luke Braid tries Gareth Anscombe con 2, pen 2