The Blues have kept pace with the top four with a 30-14 win over the Fijian Drua.
It’s the first time the Drua have been defeated at home in 2023 as Leon McDonald’s men get their third win in a row.
Both teams struggled with handling errors in the hot and humid conditions, having to wait 25 minutes until the first points via Beauden Barrett’s boot.
Rieko Ioane opened the try-scoring for the Blues two minutes later as they kicked clear for a 13-0 lead before number eight Elia Canakaivata got the crowd on their feet after a mistake from the kick-off.
Canakaivata’s effort was instantly answered by a tackle-busting charge from lock Cameron Suafoa, giving the Blues a 13-point half-time advantage.
Dalton Papalii made a successful return from injury to help close the game out for the visitors.
He powered over from close to punish an ill-disciplined performance from the hosts to push the game beyond reach.
Canakaivata got his second with 15 minutes to go, finishing off a nice move in the corner.
The class of Barrett helped close out the game with a penalty nine minutes before the full-time whistle.
“We expected it was going to be hot but once you actually feel the heat, it is a whole different ball game,” Papalii said after the game
“We knew we had to play at our tempo and control the game but credit to the Drua, they’ve been playing good all season. When they get those offloads away, they’re a dangerous team.”
The win lifts the Blues into fourth position, leapfrogging the Crusaders, who have a game in hand.
It caps off a dramatic week for coach Leon McDonald, who was named All Blacks assistant coach for 2024, turning his focus towards next week’s clash with Moana Pasifika.
As for the Drua, they will be hungry for victory against the Hurricanes at HCF Bank Stadium, sitting two points outside the top eight.
Rebels preparing for Philip return after Pasifika breakthrough
Meanwhile, the Melbourne Rebels are looking to use their win over Moana Pasifika to springboard their finals charge with a host of players returning, headlined by Wallaby Matt Philip.
The Rebels did it the hard way, surviving a second-half comeback to defeat Moana Pasifika 43-33 in Auckland.
“We’ve gone through a fair bit over the past three weeks and played some good Rugby so to come away with the win in New Zealand away from home is really important,” Foote told reporters.
“We had some late changes in our team but it just shows our great leadership and guys stepped up. I thought Angelo Smith did really well as well as David (Feliuai) did well in the centre.
“It can definitely be a catalyst for a good performance back home.
“We did start well but I think we still left a few points out there,” captain Brad Wilkin added.
“It’s a good game to move forward and work on what we’ve been working on before a big game next week against the Brumbies.”
Foote confirmed a host of players are firming for their return, including Wallaby Philip.