After the highs of smashing the Bulls 32-17 last week, the Blues were brought back down to earth with a mighty thud as they sunk to a 33-21 loss to the Stormers at Eden Park on Saturday night.
Head coach Pat Lam laid down the challenge to his players to replicate their fine performance from last week, but they were unable to rise to the same lofty heights and instead fell flat against an impressive Stormers side out to atone for their shock loss to the Western Force.
The Blues and Stormers scored three tries apiece, but it was the boot of first five eighths Peter Grant who made the difference, slotting four penalties and three conversions in a flawless night from the South African.
The loss now leaves the Blues in eighth position after winning just four of their eight matches, and means the heat is now well and truly on the Auckland based franchise if they are to have a chance of making the semi-finals.
The Stormers came out of the blocks flying to build a 20-0 lead after 32 minutes and from there it was always going to be an uphill struggle as the Blues were forced to play high-risk, catch up rugby.
Springbok centre Jaque Fourie bagged the visitors’ first try 12 minutes in after an average up-and-under from Rene Ranger was taken by Gio Aplon who carved up the defence, offloading to Tiaan Libenberg who sent Fourie over untouched.
The Stormers then had their second try ten minutes later when a rolling maul from a lineout came within metres of the Blues’ line, and nippy halfback Dewaldt Duvagne dived over from close range to score.
But the Blues, who did look dangerous in patches as Luke McAlister, Isaia Toeava and Rene Ranger all found holes in the Stormers’ defence, finally struck back eight minutes before half time after an individual piece of brilliance by Toeava.
The exciting fullback fielded a kick, put a brilliant fend on Francois Louw and scooted down the sideline, offloading to Joe Rokocoko before he received a quick ball back.
From the ensuing ruck, flanker Serge Lilo burrowed over to score as the Blues narrowed the deficit to 20-7 at half time.
After finishing the first half in impressive fashion,the Blues continued from where they left off as Luke McAlister, in his first start for the Blues this year after Benson Stanley was a late withdrawal, scored ten minutes into the second stanza.
It was Jerome Kaino, arguably the form player in New Zealand Rugby, who made the initial bust and a few phases later Stephen Brett floated a wide ball out to McAlister who was able to step inside Bryan Habana and dive over.
But a simple penalty attempt that was missed by Brett and a squandered try scoring opportunity halted the Blues momentum as the Stormers replied immediately, a mix-up at lineout time by the Blues costing them dearly as replacement Anton Van Zyl scored.
Joe Rokocoko hit back with a scintillating try to close the gap to 30-14 20 minutes from fulltime, gathering a kick and tearing through the Stormers defence before linking up with Toeava who sent the flying Fijian over the line.
But in the end the steely defence of the Stormers was too good for the razzle dazzle of the Blues as the Cape Town based franchise held firm in the final quarter to close out the match.