Ugly win but Blues beat Cheetahs at Eden

Jerome Kaino bruising as ever in the Blues' round 19 Super Rugby match against the Chiefs.
Jerome Kaino bruising as ever in the Blues' round 19 Super Rugby match against the Chiefs.
Blues players Francis Saili, Ma'a Nonu, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino and Sam Prattley look dejected after losing their last game of the Super Rugby season.
Blues players Francis Saili, Ma'a Nonu, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino and Sam Prattley look dejected after losing their last game of the Super Rugby season.
Blues fans felt dejected too.
Blues fans felt dejected too.
Charles Piutau on a spirited run in the Blues' round 19 Super Rugby match against the Chiefs.
Charles Piutau on a spirited run in the Blues' round 19 Super Rugby match against the Chiefs.
Keven Mealamu runs onto the pitch ahead of the Blues' final match of the Super Rugby season.
Keven Mealamu runs onto the pitch ahead of the Blues' final match of the Super Rugby season.
Blues star Ma'a Nonu is tackled by Dan Carter of the Crusaders during their round 18 Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Blues star Ma'a Nonu is tackled by Dan Carter of the Crusaders during their round 18 Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Andy Ellis, centre, of the Crusaders is tackled by Blues players Tony Woodcock (left) and Luke Braid (right) during his side's win in Christchurch.
Andy Ellis, centre, of the Crusaders is tackled by Blues players Tony Woodcock (left) and Luke Braid (right) during his side's win in Christchurch.
Crusaders lock Dominic Bird powers through a number of would-be Blues defenders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Crusaders lock Dominic Bird powers through a number of would-be Blues defenders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues is tackled by Andy Ellis of the Crusaders during their round 18 Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues is tackled by Andy Ellis of the Crusaders during their round 18 Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Nemani Nadolo of the Crusaders dives over to score a try against the Blues in round 18.
Nemani Nadolo of the Crusaders dives over to score a try against the Blues in round 18.
Crusaders second-five Dan Carter is tackled by All Blacks team-mate and Blues prop Tony Woodcock.
Crusaders second-five Dan Carter is tackled by All Blacks team-mate and Blues prop Tony Woodcock.
Blues second-five Ma'a Nonu is tackled during his side's win over the Force in Perth.
Blues second-five Ma'a Nonu is tackled during his side's win over the Force in Perth.
Steven Luatua of the Blues is tackled during his side's win over the Force in Perth.
Steven Luatua of the Blues is tackled during his side's win over the Force in Perth.
Dane Haylett-Petty of the Force is smashed by the Blues defence during a Super Rugby meeting between the two sides in round 17.
Dane Haylett-Petty of the Force is smashed by the Blues defence during a Super Rugby meeting between the two sides in round 17.
Peter Saili of the Blues is tackled during his side's round 17 Super Rugby match against the Force.
Peter Saili of the Blues is tackled during his side's round 17 Super Rugby match against the Force.
Ma'a Nonu (left) celebrates with team mate George Moala after a try during the round 17 Super Rugby match between the Force and the Blues at nib Stadium in Perth.
Ma'a Nonu (left) celebrates with team mate George Moala after a try during the round 17 Super Rugby match between the Force and the Blues at nib Stadium in Perth.
Flanker Jerome Kaino looks a beaten man during the Blues' loss to the Chiefs in New Plymouth.
Flanker Jerome Kaino looks a beaten man during the Blues' loss to the Chiefs in New Plymouth.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan gives his side some instruction in New Plymouth.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan gives his side some instruction in New Plymouth.
Blues centre Ma'a Nonu spins a pass out under pressure from the Chiefs' Bundee Aki.
Blues centre Ma'a Nonu spins a pass out under pressure from the Chiefs' Bundee Aki.
Blues winger Frank Halai makes a charge against the Chiefs at Yarrow Stadium.
Blues winger Frank Halai makes a charge against the Chiefs at Yarrow Stadium.
Ihaia West of the Blues is congratulated by teammate Steven Luatua after scoring a try against the Reds at Eden Park.
Ihaia West of the Blues is congratulated by teammate Steven Luatua after scoring a try against the Reds at Eden Park.
Lolagi Visinia of the Blues charges at the Reds defence at Eden Park.
Lolagi Visinia of the Blues charges at the Reds defence at Eden Park.
Blues centre George Moala sends Kiwi-born Reds playmaker Quade Cooper crashing to the ground.
Blues centre George Moala sends Kiwi-born Reds playmaker Quade Cooper crashing to the ground.
Blues No 10 Simon Hickey is tackled by the Reds' Jake Schatz during their teams' clash at Eden Park in Auckland.
Blues No 10 Simon Hickey is tackled by the Reds' Jake Schatz during their teams' clash at Eden Park in Auckland.
Luke Braid of the Blues is tackled by Dave Dennis of the Waratahs.
Luke Braid of the Blues is tackled by Dave Dennis of the Waratahs.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues charges forward during their match against the Waratahs.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues charges forward during their match against the Waratahs.
Peter Saili of the Blues offloads the ball in the tackle of Michael Hooper of the Waratahs.
Peter Saili of the Blues offloads the ball in the tackle of Michael Hooper of the Waratahs.
Piri Weepu of the Blues during their match against the Waratahs.
Piri Weepu of the Blues during their match against the Waratahs.
Bryn Hall of the Blues runs the ball during their round ten match against the Hurricanes.
Bryn Hall of the Blues runs the ball during their round ten match against the Hurricanes.
George Moala of the Blues is tackled by Dane Coles of the Hurricanes.
George Moala of the Blues is tackled by Dane Coles of the Hurricanes.
Chris Noakes of the Blues is tackled by Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes.
Chris Noakes of the Blues is tackled by Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues is tackled by Jeffery Toomaga-Allen of the Hurricanes.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues is tackled by Jeffery Toomaga-Allen of the Hurricanes.
Blues flanker Steven Luatua tries to get to grips with the Brumbies' Pat McCabe.
Blues flanker Steven Luatua tries to get to grips with the Brumbies' Pat McCabe.
Joe Tomane of the Brumbies tackles Blues wing Charles Piutau as the teams square off in Canberra.
Joe Tomane of the Brumbies tackles Blues wing Charles Piutau as the teams square off in Canberra.
Blues halfback Bryn Hall spins a lovely pass from a ruck during his team's clash with the Brumbies in Canberra.
Blues halfback Bryn Hall spins a lovely pass from a ruck during his team's clash with the Brumbies in Canberra.
Benji Marshall has a cut at the Brumbies defence in Canberra.
Benji Marshall has a cut at the Brumbies defence in Canberra.
Charles Piutau makes a break for the Blues against the Highlanders at Eden Park.
Charles Piutau makes a break for the Blues against the Highlanders at Eden Park.
Benji Marshall of the Blues takes on the Highlanders defence.
Benji Marshall of the Blues takes on the Highlanders defence.
Former All Black Jerome Kaino made a winning return to the Blues against the Highlanders.
Former All Black Jerome Kaino made a winning return to the Blues against the Highlanders.
Young Blues first five Simon Hickey lines up a kick at goal against the Highlanders at Eden Park.
Young Blues first five Simon Hickey lines up a kick at goal against the Highlanders at Eden Park.
Charles Piutau drags a Lions player with him, as Benji Marshall and Chris Noakes support.
Charles Piutau drags a Lions player with him, as Benji Marshall and Chris Noakes support.
Luke Braid crashes into a Lions player in Johannesburg.
Luke Braid crashes into a Lions player in Johannesburg.
Substitute first-five Simon Hickey gets a Blues attacking move started.
Substitute first-five Simon Hickey gets a Blues attacking move started.
George Moala flings a pass back in-field as he's grabbed by the ankle.
George Moala flings a pass back in-field as he's grabbed by the ankle.
Blues wing Frank Halai is pulled down short of the try line.
Blues wing Frank Halai is pulled down short of the try line.
Tom Donnelly of the Blues, far right, fires out a pass under pressure from the Bulls' chasers.
Tom Donnelly of the Blues, far right, fires out a pass under pressure from the Bulls' chasers.
James Parsons of the Blues, centre, leads a team talk during his side's clash with the Bulls in South Africa.
James Parsons of the Blues, centre, leads a team talk during his side's clash with the Bulls in South Africa.
Blues halfback Piri Weepu goes searching for the ball against the Bulls.
Blues halfback Piri Weepu goes searching for the ball against the Bulls.
Blues lock Liaki Moli in action against the Bulls.
Blues lock Liaki Moli in action against the Bulls.
Keven Mealamu congratulates Benji Marshall after the Blues' dominant victory over the Crusaders.
Keven Mealamu congratulates Benji Marshall after the Blues' dominant victory over the Crusaders.
Steven Luatua is shown a yellow card by referee Garrett Williamson.
Steven Luatua is shown a yellow card by referee Garrett Williamson.
George Moala breaks through the Crusaders defence.
George Moala breaks through the Crusaders defence.
Blues wing Frank Halai is tackled by Crusaders prop Tim Perry.
Blues wing Frank Halai is tackled by Crusaders prop Tim Perry.
Super Rugby rookie Simon Hickey kicks the ball clear.
Super Rugby rookie Simon Hickey kicks the ball clear.
Tom Donnelly on the charge against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Tom Donnelly on the charge against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Chris Noakes of the Blues, centre, is hit hard by Brad Thorn, left.
Chris Noakes of the Blues, centre, is hit hard by Brad Thorn, left.
A bloodied Peter Saili shows his battle scars from the clash with the Highlanders.
A bloodied Peter Saili shows his battle scars from the clash with the Highlanders.
Benji Marshall, right, made his Super Rugby debut for the Blues in Dunedin. Here he is grappling for the ball with Highlander Richard Buckman.
Benji Marshall, right, made his Super Rugby debut for the Blues in Dunedin. Here he is grappling for the ball with Highlander Richard Buckman.

As challenging as the trip back from South Africa can be, the Blues need drastic improvements if they are to be considered genuine contenders.

Not banking a win at Eden Park tonight, against this year's worst team, the Cheetahs, would have been akin to missing a two-inch putt.

Still, the Blues made their ugly 40-30 bonus point win seem exceedingly difficult. They will breathe a sigh of relief after scraping to improve their now 2-3 record. 

GOTCHYA: Hennie Daniller of the Cheetahs is caught by Charles Piutau and George Moala of the Blues.
GOTCHYA: Hennie Daniller of the Cheetahs is caught by Charles Piutau and George Moala of the Blues.

The Cheetahs are a rabble - a side that has now finished a four-match losing tour and are desperate to return home. They have sharp attacking instincts and not much else, certainly no substance on defence.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan pointed to last week's long haul journey home from the Republic, where they lost both matches, as excuses for his side's struggles to put together any fluid attacking movements; having their defence easily breached to concede three tries and not putting away the visitors. 

His sentiments - labeling his side's effort a "great 80-minute performance" - were hard to buy into.  

GOTCHYA: Hennie Daniller of the Cheetahs is caught by Charles Piutau and George Moala of the Blues.
GOTCHYA: Hennie Daniller of the Cheetahs is caught by Charles Piutau and George Moala of the Blues.

"It's been a tough week," Kirwan said. "It was a must-win for us and we managed to get five points. Don't underestimate how tough it is to fly back from South Africa. 

"This is a real difficult game, physically. I was really pleased with the effort."

While the victory boosts the Blues' points tally, their form won't scare next week's opponents, the Highlanders. 

On this evidence the southerners will fancy their chances, even.

The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino. The 13,500 crowd were on their feet in the 53rd minute as the two star recruits came on for their first, respective, appearances of the season. But that also summed up the frustrating nature of the Blues' performance.

Rookie first five-eighth Simon Hickey again stepped up to land 20-points (eight-from-nine), which, ultimately, saved his side from what could have been an embarrassing defeat.

The consistent, fundamental mistakes that have plagued the Blues' efforts were all-too-frequent, though pedantic Argentine referee Francisco Pastrana didn't help the stop-start affair.

In what is becoming a major concern for two All Blacks props - Charlie Faumuina and Tony Woodcock - the Blues scrum was again shunted around, too. 

Liaki Moli, Tevita Li and Jackson Willison, who otherwise had some nice touches, were also all guilty of making unforced handling errors in the scrappy firsthalf.

Had it not been for Steven Luatua's strike from a line-out drive the Blues would have been chasing the game early. After some indifferent form, the All Blacks flanker stepped up with his best outing of the season.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske questioned the decision to yellow card flanker Boom Prinsloo and strongly disagreed with a very debatable try awarded to Blues centre George Moala. Referee Pastrana overruled TMO Glenn Newman, who strongly suggested a double movement had been committed.

 "If you want to overrule the TMO then it has to be clear and obvious," Drotske said. "If that wasn't a double movement then I don't understand the rule."

That call set-up a 30-16 half-time lead for Kirwan's men, but their secondhalf efforts were no better than the first. Their midfield defence was exposed by the speed of Cheetahs wingers Hennie Daniller and Cornal Hendricks.

Benji Marshall came on for the final 15-minutes at fullback, but his impact was near-nonexistent as the Blues were forced to defend their lead, rather than show any kind of ruthless streak.

Kirwan was thankful to break a two-match losing run. But, privately at least, he will realise his team must be much better to compete with the Highlanders. Or anyone else, for that matter.

"Next week we definitely have to raise our level," he said. "They skunked us down there last time."

Blues 40 (Steven Luatua, George Moala, Tevita Li, Tony Woodcock tries Simon Hickey pen 3, con 4) Cheetahs 30 (Boom Prinsloo, Cornal Hendricks, Hennie Daniller tries Johan Goosen pen 2, con, Elgar Watts pen, con 2). HT: 30-16 

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