Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: 'We're hungry for more': Title triumph signifies Blues revival

The Blues have now had their long-awaited taste of success and it's whet their appetite for more.

The Auckland-based franchise snapped 18 years of trophy-less competition in front of a vocal and enthusiastic home crowd of 36,000 at Eden Park on Saturday night, outlasting a predictably valiant Highlanders side 23-15 to claim the inaugural Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title.

Coach Leon MacDonald believes the win not only signifies an end to that drought, but a breaking of the shackles that he's confident will unleash a new era of belief within the Blues.

"This group now has got massive potential," MacDonald says. "I think we’re just starting to see in the second half of the season some massive growth from individuals and collectively. We’re a young group as well which is exciting.

"We saw tonight how close the margins are, and we saw in the Aotearoa competition you get it wrong slightly and you’re off. 

"This is great, because belief is huge. We’ll gain belief. We understand how tough it is and what it takes to win a title now.

"I think the guys when you speak to them in the sheds, they’re really hungry for more. They love this feeling, and it just might light that fire for us to keep moving forward."

MacDonald identified Harry Plummer as a player who encapsulated his side's transformation over the past two seasons.

Entering the match with the contest in the balance, 22-year-old Plummer - ice in his veins - stepped up to the kicking tee to nail a critical long-range penalty at a testing angle to edge the Blues back in front, erasing memories of a similar situation against the Crusaders two years ago that didn't end with flags raised.

The celebrations continue in the sheds.
The celebrations continue in the sheds. Photo credit: Photosport

The born and bred Aucklander then punctuated that effort with a sideline conversion of Blake Gibson's 77th minute try to secure an eight-point buffer and put the game beyond the Highlanders' reach.

"The conversion [was crucial] because I wouldn't have liked going to that last maul knowing they could score and win the game," notes MacDonald afterwards. "They were two big plays. Harry has been kicking the ball really well at training, and he's a confident player.

"I'm stoked for him. He's been through a lot. He copped some criticism when he missed a kick against the Crusaders two years ago, and I think he answered that in spades to make those two big kicks.

"There were some big performances right across the park. I thought [Patrick Tuipulotu] put in a big shift tonight, played with a lot of heart and passion and led from the front. Some of our bigger players stood up tonight in a pretty brutal game."

Captain Tuipulotu was imperious across the paddock, leading a forward pack that has been the foundation of the Blues' success this season.

The All Black loose forward trioof Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, and Hoskins Sotutu were immense - relentless defensively and at the breakdown, where the latter won the late turnover that ultimately led to Gibson's match-clinching try.

"We talked all week around the breakdown," says MacDonald.

"We knew that was an area they would really come in hot - Billy Harmon and co on the ball. I thought we did a good job, but they started to get some pay later in the game.

"We counter-rucked a lot, put them under pressure for large periods but weren't able to score points. We were bashing away at their line and got a little frantic at times. But we held to our guns and got there in the end."

Beaming with a mixture of relief and joy, MacDonald admitted - in a match of such razor-thin margins - the outcome may well have been different.

"That was not easy on the heart," MacDonald says. "It was a real final, combative and physical, ebbs and flows and a bit of drama, and two good teams that put it on the line tonight. 

"We're thrilled to get there in the end but with 10 minutes to go it looked quite hairy for us."