Winger George Bridge grabbed three tries as the Crusaders romped to a 54-17 win over the Blues at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
Tries from Jack Goodhue (2), Seta Tamanivalu, Sam Whitelock, Bryn Hall and three from Bridge proved far too much for the Blues who scored through a penalty try and a Melani Nanai double.
The Crusaders began the match on the front foot, taking the game to the game to the Blues with superb interplay between forwards and backs before Ryan Crotty released Goodhue through the gap – the centre profiting from some sloppy defending to dot down for the game’s opening try.
The Blues would dominate possession and territory for the remainder of the half, but were unable to convert this dominance in to points due to both some stubborn Crusaders defending and wasteful finishing on their part.
The Crusaders, in contrast, were more incisive. Some flat passing and good depth of running from the Crusaders exposed the Blues’ width on defence as Bridge sailed in for his side’s second in the 22nd minute as Richie Mo’unga added the extras this time for a 12-0 lead.
Ten minutes before half-time and against the run of play, Nanai intercepted Israel Dagg’s pass to run 30 metres to the try-line and bring the Blues back to within a converted try of the defending champions at 5-12.
Some relentless pressure from the Crusaders got them over on the stroke of half-time as Mitchell Drummond made the sniping break before finding Tamanivalu with the offload. Mo’unga converted as the hosts took a 19-5 lead in to the interval.
The Crusaders extended their lead three minutes after the interval. A well-worked driving maul drew the Blues’ defenders, leaving them exposed when the ball was spun out wide with Goodhue going through a gaping gap for his brace.
But the Blues claimed a psychological victory in the 51st minute when referee Federico Anselmi awarded them a penalty try after a dominant scrum making it 26-12.
Soon afterwards, the deficit was nine as Nanai grabbed his brace with a spectacular finish in the left-hand corner after fly-half had thrown the long pass, leaving the winger to do produce an acrobatic one-handed finish despite the attentions of Dagg.
Having struggled to be as free-flowing as they were in the second half, the Crusaders sparked to life in the 63rd minute when Tamanivalu’s injection of pace broke the line with Crotty the link between him and Bridge, the latter dotting down for his double as Mo’unga slotted the conversion between the posts for a 33-17 lead.
Bridge then grabbed his hat-trick with six minutes to go after Goodhue had done brilliantly to evade Murphy Taramai’s tackle in midfield before playing the long, wide pass to Bridge, who cut inside for a nice finish.
Captain Sam Whitelock got in on the act when he busted Akira Ioane’s tackle and sprinted 10 metres to crash over. The icing was on the cake when Hall brought up the 50 after good work from Tamanivalu and Bridge.
Tries: Bridge 3, Goodhue 2, Tamanivalu, Whitelock, Hall
Cons: Mo’unga 4, Hunt 3
Tries: Nanai 2, Penalty Try
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Quinten Strange, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Tim Perry
Replacements: 16 Sam Anderson-Heather, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Donald Brighouse, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ben Nee-Nee, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Matt Moulds, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Ross Wright, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Jacob Pierce, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Tamati Tua
Referee: Federico Anselmi
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown, Mike Fraser
TMO: Shane McDermott