The Crusaders moved to the top of the New Zealand Conference and overall table after claiming a hard-fought 26-21 win over the Blues in Auckland on Saturday.
In what was another superb advert for New Zealand rugby, both these sides deserve plenty of credit for making this the entertaining spectacle that it was.
Both teams ran ball whenever they were presented with the opportunity, although the Crusaders’ ability to absorb pressure better than their hosts eventually secured them the result.
The win means the Crusaders move above the Chiefs in the standings. The men from Cristchurch have 45 points from 12 matches played, while the Chiefs are three points adrift after the same number of games. The Blues are still at the bottom of the New Zealand Conference with 30 points from their 12 matches.
The Crusaders opened the scoring in the 10th minute – Nemani Nadolo rounding off in the left-hand corner after Kieran Read put him in the clear with a delightful offload close to the home side’s tryline.
Richie Mou’nga added the extras but it didn’t take long for the homeside to respond with Jerome Kaino having a big hand in setting up a try for Ihaia West.
The Crusaders were under pressure inside their 22 when Kaino charged down an attempted clearance kick from Mo’unga and the Blues enforcer did well to win a turnover from the ensuing ruck. The ball was shifted wide to West, who beat Jordan Taufua with a superb sidestep before dotting down.
The pivot failed to convert, and although no points were scored for the next 15 minutes there was plenty of end-to-end action as both sides tried to gain the ascendancy.
West made up for his earlier miss with a penalty in the 31st minute and shortly afterwards Charlie Faumuina left his stamp on this match when he put in a massive hit on Johnny McNicholl which was felt in the stands.
That tackle seemed to boost the Blues’ confidence, and they stepped up a gear on attack, but the Crusaders scored next via a Mo’unga penalty after Kaino was penalised for obstruction.
The Blues struck back just before half-time when George Moala rounded off a thrilling move close to the left-hand touchline, after Matt Duffie did well in the build-up, and West converted to give the hosts a deserved 15-10 lead at the interval.
The Blues didn’t build on that score when they came out for the second half and conceded several penalties, soon after the restart.
Mo’unga converted one of those in the 47th minute before West restored his side’s five-point lead with a penalty of his own two minutes later.
The Crusaders increased the intensity on attack and were eventually rewarded in the 62nd minute when Andy Ellis rounded off a break after Kieran Fonotia did well with a brilliant run in the build-up.
Mo’unga converted and nailed two further penalties which secured the result for his team, although Piers Francis secured a bonus-point for the Blues when he slotted a three-pointer from the kicking tee with the last act of the match.
Tries: West, Moala
Pens: West 2, Francis
Tries: Nadolo, Ellis
Cons: Mo’unga 2
Pens: Mo’unga 4
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala/Male Sa’u, 12 Piers Francis, 11Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Billy Guyton, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Hoani Matenga, 20 Jack Ram, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Male Sa’u, 23 Lolagi Visinia
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Tim Boys, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 David Havili, 23 Marty McKenzie
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Glenn Newman