The Blues clung on to clock their first win against the Crusaders at Christchurch in 18 years and top the Super Rugby Pacific table leading into the trans-Tasman component of the competition next week.
A try-saving tackle by Blues captain Dalton Papalii and centre Rieko Ioane in the 78th minute allowed them to clinch a long-awaited victory 27-23 and underline their championship credentials.
With the Brumbies having a bye this weekend, it propelled them above the Canberra side on points differential to the top of the 12-team table after round nine.
The Crusaders slipped to fourth behind the Reds after the Queenslanders’ nail-biting 36-32 win over the Rebels in Melbourne.
The weekend action marked the last of the local derbies, played due to Covid-enforced border closures between Australia and New Zealand.
With the crossing now open, the competition’s remaining six rounds will see Australian-based teams meet their trans-Tasman counterparts.
In Christchurch, the Crusaders lost captain Scott Barrett to a red card for a high shoulder charge in the 46th minute when they were trailing 17-10.
With the big lock off the field, they conceded a converted try which gave the Blues a 24-10 advantage before a late fightback sent the game to a nerve-wracking finish.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald admitted the win had been a long time coming. “We’ve come here with high hopes the last couple of years, and walked away after a bit of a hiding,” he told reporters.
“Today, we fronted from the start. We had a good preparation week, our leaders stood up, and it felt like we earned the win.”
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said the Blues were more disciplined and deserved the win. “They took opportunities and showed they were desperate after 18 years to come down here and turn the tide which they did,” he said.
The Blues meet Australia-based Fijian Drua next week while the Crusaders face the Rebels, looking to inflict more misery on the Melbourne side which has won just two from eight this season after defeat to the Reds.
Trailing by 14 points at one stage, the Rebels hit the front for the first time in the 63rd minute, leading 25-24 after Matt Toomua converted a try from lock Matt Philip. But the Reds then scored twice within two minutes to reassert their authority and ensure a third successive victory.
The Waratahs also triumphed, beating an injury-ravaged Force 41-24 in Perth to remain fifth on the ladder.
They scored three tries in the opening 13 minutes, including one to Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper, and there was no way back from the early onslaught as the Force slumped to a six tries to four defeat.
Force stand-in skipper Kyle Godwin said the team needed to fix their poor starts. “It seems to be the same story for us unfortunately,” he said.
In other action, the Chiefs eased past Moana Pasifika 45-12. It was the second heavy loss of the week for the Pacific newcomers who slumped 53-12 to the Hurricanes in a catch-up game on Tuesday.
Aaron Smith’s Highlanders also crashed again, falling 22-21 to the Hurricanes in a thriller after they were denied a try after the full-time siren.
Highlanders substitute Saula Ma’u thought he had bagged the winning try after barging over in the 81st minute at Dunedin. But replays showed he was brought down just short of the line.
Along with Pasifika and Drua, the Highlanders have won just one from eight so far.
© Agence France-Presse