A three-try second-half comeback from the Blues stunned the Crusaders as the hosts won 24-22 at Eden Park on Saturday.
A three-try second-half comeback from the Blues stunned the Crusaders as the hosts won 24-22 at Eden Park.
Early-season cobwebs were evident in Auckland but the spillages were outweighed by immense tackles and running rugby, with the usual Super suspects showcasing their skills.
The Blues, like in 2010, lack the consistency that will be required to contest for the title while many missed kicks from Stephen Brett almost cost the hosts. However, their captain fantastic Keven Mealamu stood tall to snatch a win for his side.
19-6 down at the half-time break and with the Crusaders demonstrating all of their streetwise capabilities, Pat Lam's outfit needed to lift their game and did just that with tries coming via Benson Stanley, Tony Woodcock and Mealamu.
The comeback began after a slightly frustrating half for the home side as wayward shots at goal from Brett, and indeed Daniel Carter, meant that Sean Maitland and Andy Ellis' tries were the difference going into the dressing rooms.
But then came the class of the Blues. Rene Ranger and Isaia Toeava were both a constant counter-attacking threat and it was the former who proved the catalyst for Stanley's score with a break down the left wing.
Auckland was beginning to believe that the comeback was on at 19-11, despite Brett's continued off night with the boot. And when Woodcock burrowed his way over from close range, the stage was set for Mealamu to show his experience. Breaking down the blindside from a maul, there was no stopping the All Black.
Man-of-the-match: Despite his score and general leadership, the line-out proved a slight problem for Keven Mealamu. Isaia Toeava didn't have any such problems with his game and caused all sorts of issues for the Crusaders.
For the Blues:
Tries: Stanley, Woodcock, Mealamu
Pen: Brett 3
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Maitland, Ellis
Pen: Carter 4
Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Broic, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney/Ash Dixon, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Sherwin Stowers.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Adam Whitelock, 11 Tu Umaga-Marshall, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Francis Smith, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Tom Marshall.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jonathon White (New Zealand), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)