The Crusaders scored four tries to claim a 32-24 win over the Blues in Auckland on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The Crusaders have now won a record seven straight games in this fixture. By contrast, the Blues’ wretched winless streak against New Zealand opposition was extended to 17 matches, dating back to week one of the 2016 season.
By bagging four log points, the Crusaders move a point clear of the Hurricanes at the top of the New Zealand conference log and, by default, displace them at the summit of the combined standings.
The Blues never troubled the Crusaders, who were in control from beginning to end despite absorbing a lot of pressure in the latter stages of the contest. One positive for the Blues is that they at least dominated in the scrums, even if it comes as little consolation in the bigger scheme of things.
Despite the torrential downpour at Eden Park, the Crusaders still managed to put on an exhibition in ball skills and execution. After just 30 minutes of action, the Crusaders had made 205m to 62m, completed 43 carries to 18 and beaten seven defenders to four. With the visitors also enjoying as much as 73% of possession, the Blues were forced to make 36 tackles to just 16.
The Blues’ brittle defence caved in under the relentless pressure during that period, as the Crusaders opened up a handy 22-5 lead with George Bridge, Quinten Strange and Matt Todd dotting down for a try each.
The hosts pulled a try back through Rieko Ioane, but the Crusaders reinstated their original advantage when Bryn Hall cantered over two minutes into stoppage time in the first half.
However, the home team slowly worked their way back into the clash as they began to dominate the gainline battle, with Rieko Ioane proving to be particularly effective.
The wing powered over for his second try of the game and moments later he accelerated through a tackle to set up Michael Collins for a try that saw the Blues reduce the gap to 32-24. Richie Mo’unga also added a penalty to the Crusaders’ account.
The Blues would enjoy their best spell of the game in the last 15 minutes, but the Crusaders’ defence scrambled well to keep them out and deny them a losing bonus-point.
Blues – Tries: Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane (2), Michael Collins. Conversion: Stephen Perofeta (2).
Crusaders – Tries: George Bridge, Quinten Strange, Matt Todd, Bryn Hall. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (3). Penalty: Mo’unga (2).
Blues – 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Matiaha Martin, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Ben Nee-Nee, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Michael Collins.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Tim Perry.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Photo: Renee McKay/Getty Images