Blues stylish in first road win in 16 months
The Blues first away win in 16 months still leaves them on borrowed time, but New Zealand's original Super Rugby standard bearer at least kept their slender title hopes alive by ending the Western Force's five-match unbeaten streak in Perth.
Needing to win their three remaining games when the competition resumed after the June test window, the Blues cleared the first obstacle at nib Stadium with a stylish 40-14 - victory that boosts them from 10th to eighth at the close of an abbreviated round.
The inclusion of six All Blacks involved in the clean-sweep over England earlier this month easily counteracted the return of a half dozen Force personnel from injury - including former All Black halfback Alby Mathewson.
A coveted four-try bonus point enhanced the Blues first win on Australian soil since 2012 - and first road win since beating the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium on February 23 last year.
The Blues focus is now on their remaining games against the Crusaders and Chiefs, plus other outcomes, as they strive to sneak into the finals for the first time since 2011.
On the strength of last night's performance they could be a dangerous opponent should they make the cut - the test break was hardly detrimental as the Blues produced a fine all-round effort to increase their point tally to 36.
"Everyone knows we've struggled away for a year and a bit. It was good just to start well," said Blues captain Luke Braid.
"We got some points on the board, the boys felt comfortable and we got into the Blues rhythm and started playing rugby."
The Force were condemned to catch up mode from just the 18th minute - a scenario that doesn't suit their no frills game plan - after the Blues made a scintillating start with a scoring blitz that should have the Crusaders nervous ahead of Saturday's clash in Christchurch.
Four sparkling tries inside the opening quarter had the bonus point locked down as Ihaia West, Charlie Faumuina, Lolagi Visinia and Ma'a Nonu capitalised on a totally dominant performance by the Blues loose trio.
Rookie first five-eighth West crossed in the fifth minute after Visinia chipped ahead after halfback Bryn Hall found the fullback with an astute cross kick; Faumuina was unstoppable from close range once former teammate Alby Mathewson had a clearance charged down, then a Steven Luatua turnover set Visinia's straight burst to the corner in motion.
Nonu, easily the most experienced member of the Blues exciting back division completed the bonus point -yielding play when he brushed aside Sias Ebersohn and Jayden Hayward, to set the scene for a potential rout.
However, the Force dominated the remainder of the half territorially and possession-wise yet had no tangible reward at the break thanks to a defensive effort from the Blues that proved they were unwilling to rest on their laurels.
The Force enjoyed 95 per cent of possession for a 10-minute period but were unable to crack a resolute - and occasionally borderline - alignment that drew a warning from Australian referee Rohan Hoffman at the half hour mark.
Undeterred, the Blues continued to frustrate the Force at close quarters while the damage was also self-inflicted as botched lineouts, scrum infringements and lax ball security dashing any hopes of a comeback.
The Blues 26-point advantage was their biggest lead at halftime since 2008 and although Tom Donnelly was sacrificed in the 47th minute after Hoffman finally tired of the visitors' indiscretions they scored their fifth try - to skipper Luke Braid - while a man down.
Blindside flanker Luatua, who is seeking to rediscover the form that earned him All Black status last year, opened the second half with a turnover to encapsulate the Force's woes - and the Blues' strength - while Jerome Kaino was also impressive during his 56-minute shift.
Nonu was also rested soon after with the result beyond doubt but the bench maintained the Blues high standards although hooker Nathan Charles broke the Force's duck in the 65th minute, a consolation try that raised the biggest cheer since cult hero Nick Cummins - a late withdrawal with a neck injury - was shown on the big screen.
The Force will be hoping the Wallabies wing is available to face the Reds next Saturday, where a drastic improvement is required if they are to qualify for the play-offs for the first time since joining the competition in 2006.
Centre Pita Ahki raised the possibility of the Blues record a their biggest winning margin against the Force, but in the final minute replacement forward Brynard Stander ensured a 31-point loss in their first ever game remains the low point.
Blues 40 (Ihaia West, Charlie Faumuina, Lolagi Visinia, Ma Nonu, Luke Braid, Pita Ahki tries; West 5 con) Western Force 14 (Nathan Charles, Brynard Stander tries; Jayden Hayward 2 con). HT: 26-0