Blues mark their line in the sand

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Sunday, March 30, 2014    Getty Images

Coach Sir John Kirwan said keeping the Highlanders, who were a good attacking team, tryless was the reward for an 80-minute performance.

Kirwan said he felt it was the team's best performance of the year and the way they started defensively set the scene for the Blues.

Kirwan said in the wake of the Piri Weepu health disclosures it had been an unsettling week but his replacement and man of the match Bryn Hall had stepped up again, after good performances in recent weeks.

"Tonight I thought he has arrived. I thought he had a fantastic performance making the break from that lineout, which led to Ma'a Nonu's try, and getting to the breakdowns and passing the ball I thought he was really strong for us tonight.

"I'm really pleased for him because he has been working really hard. He had a hard season last year and he's just worked really hard on his game and I thought he got a lot of reward out of that hard work tonight," he said.

Kirwan was impressed with his judgment in not trying too hard to do something special but being effective when choosing his moments.

The team's solidity across the park had backed the improvement in their set piece play because having that solidity was important before attempting the razzle-dazzle.

"It feels like a bit of a start for me. That needs to be our line in the sand and we need to say that we need to keep building on this now," he said.

Returning All Blacks Nonu and Jerome Kaino had been beneficial and they had helped an attitude change in the side.

Captain Luke Braid said having Kaino and Nonu made a difference. Kaino sometimes had three players on him but was still able to get over the advantage line while Nonu had kept checking the Highlanders' line speed with well-placed kicks.

There was a flat period towards the end of the game but that was something to work on in terms of finishing. But the whole performance was satisfying, Kirwan said.

Jackson Willison had continued his growth within the side and he was a player who gave 100 percent each week and had been involved in more key plays on the night, Kirwan said. And he had achieved that while feeling the effects of a rib injury suffered last week and which wasn't quite right for Saturday's game.

He also said lock Hayden Triggs had been a great find as a locking replacement and had proved great value around the side.