The Crusaders cruised to a 28-13 victory over the Blues in Christchurch on Friday.
The Blues came into this game as slight favourites having beaten the champion Highlanders last week, while the Crusaders had lost to the Chiefs. But lamentable decision-making, a misfiring lineout and a crumbling scrum cost Tana Umaga’s side.
While not as fluent as we know they can be, the Crusaders were full value for their win. They dominated the set pieces and field possession, and showed more aggression and intensity at the breakdowns, which troubled the Blues defence.
Richie Mo’unga posed a constant threat to the Blues by taking the ball to the line and it was the young flyhalf who opened the scoring early on with a penalty. However, that advantage was cancelled out eight minutes later when flank Jordan Taufua was penalised for going off his feet at the breakdown and Matt McGahan drew the Blues level.
The Blues continued to plot their own downfall as the half progressed, conceding seven penalties and making as many handling errors as the Crusaders struck again.
After three scrum resets right on the 5m line, the referee awarded the hosts a penalty try which Mo’unga converted before slotting a second penalty for a 10-point lead.
The Blues wrestled back a bit of control in the scrum towards the closing stages of the half, but they were too far inside their own territory to make it count on the scoreboard.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first, with the Crusaders pinning the Blues back in their own half. But despite all their attacking play, it was Ihaia West who narrowed the deficit with a long-range penalty.
Nemani Nadolo thought he was in for the Crusaders when a Mo’unga penalty went well wide. The winger collected the ball to dot down in the corner, but replays showed he went into touch. Mo’unga, though, added three more points to his team’s tally soon after.
The Blues had defended bravely until that point, but when a poor clearance kick found Nadolo, the Fijian powerhouse pinned back his ears and sliced through the Blues defence before bouncing off the first man, Matt Duffie, who attempted to tackle him. The league convert was flung through the air and two phases later Kieran Read scored the try.
A lapse in concentration by the Crusaders saw wing Tevita Li pull a converted try back for the Blues, but the hosts made up for it in the final minute
CRUSADERS – 28
Tries : Penalty Try(18) , Kieran Read (67), Richie Mo’unga (79)
Penalties : Richie Mo’unga(3, 25.63)
Cons : Richie Mo’unga (18, 79)
BLUES – 13
Tries : Tevita Li (74)
Penalties : Ihia West (58), Matt McGahan (12)
Cons : Ihia West (74)
CRUSADERS: 1: Joe Moody 2: Codie Taylor 3: Owen Franks 4: Scott Barrett 5: Sam Whitelock (C) 6: Jordan Taufua 7: Tim Boys 8: Kieran Read 9: Andy Ellis 10: Richie Mo’unga 11: Nemani Nadolo 12: Kieron Fonotia 13: Sean Wainui 14: Jone Macilai 15: David Havili
Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Mike Alaalatoa, Jimmy Tupou, Pete Samu, Leon Fukofuka, Ben Volavola, Johnny McNicholl
BLUES: 1: Ofa Tu’ungafasi 2: Quentin MacDonald 3: Sione Mafileo 4: Patrick Tuipulotu 5: Josh Bekhuis, 6: Jerome Kaino (C) 7: Blake Gibson 8: Steven Luatua 9: Billy Guyton 10: Matt McGahan 11: Tevita Li, 12: George Moala 13: Rene Ranger 14: Melani Nanai 15: Matt Duffie
Reserves: James Parsons, Sam Prattley, Charlie Faumuina, Akira Ioane, Kara Pryor, Bryn Hall, Ihaia West, Male Sa’u.
Date: Friday, 4 March
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Referees: Chris Pollock, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Ben Skeen