JOHN KIRWAN promised Blues fans something to be proud of, and promptly delivered in Wellington on Saturday night as his men posted the first big upset of the Super Rugby season. Kirwan's Blues produced a barnstorming second half to stun the Hurricanes.
Mark Hammett's Hurricanes were a long way short of the standards they set last year and could get nothing positive going in a second half where they were played off the park.
The Blues, on the other hand, were superb over the run home and even survived a contentious second-half penalty try to the Canes that could have turned the game on its head.
But the Blues held firm while a man down, and clinched a famous bonus-point victory with late tries to Rene Ranger and big Frank Halai. It was special stuff from the Blues, who played the exciting brand they promised and not only launched the JK era in style, but celebrated the 100th Super Rugby appearance of halfback Piri Weepu perfectly.
The game never reached any great heights, but the finish by the Blues showed they're going to be a bit more of a force than many reckoned. Rebuilding mode clearly becomes them.
The game seemed to take a major twist with the 56th-minute decision to award the Hurricanes a penalty try, when Halai was ruled to have deliberately knocked the ball dead in-goal to prevent Julian Savea scoring his second try.
It was definitely a penalty, but the awarding of the seven-pointer and subsequent yellow card looked a little harsh.
That put the Canes back in front, 20-16, after impressive Blues fullback Charles Piutau had put the visitors briefly in the lead with a 49th-minute try that concluded a period of sustained Blues pressure.
But that just keyed the ultimate Blues response. Weepu landed a penalty to get them within a point, then Ranger showed typical strength to put the Blues 24-20 in front heading into the final 10 minutes.
Halai sealed the deal when he finished a superb 75th-minute breakout from George Moala, with Ranger again in the thick of the action.
The Hurricanes had led 13-11 at the end of an opening half that didn't deliver as much as it promised, either for the home side or the mid-size crowd that rocked up.
There was a try apiece to the blockbusting wingers from each team, and plenty of endeavour from the home side who created more clear-cut opportunities.
But in the end, Beauden Barrett's sideline conversion of All Black Savea's 26th-minute try proved the difference in a half that concluded with Weepu banging over a long-range penalty, and drawing the visitors well within range at the break.
Halai scored the first try, to put his team 8-6 in front at the end of the opening quarter, to finish a set move that owed much to the skill and power of Moala.
Savea replied soon after when the Canes finally used the width of the field effectively. When the ball was shifted right, then left, Conrad Smith and Victor Vito knew exactly what to do to put their big wing over.
In the end, it was the Blues' night. Their pack worked hard, but the back line proved the difference. Halai, Moala, Piutau and Francis Saili were dangerous all night, Chris Noakes ran them well, and Weepu marked his special day with a polished display.
BLUES 34 (Frank Halai 2, Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger tries Piri Weepu con 4 pens) bt HURRICANES 20 (1 penalty try) (Julian Savea try Beauden Barrett 2 cons 2 pens) at Westpac Stadium. Referee: Glen Jackson.