Super Rugby Pacific: Five takeaways from Crusaders v Blues as the champions’ cream rises to the top

David Skippers
Leicester Fainga'anuku celebrates try Crusaders SRP 2022 - PA.jpg

Following the Crusaders’ 15-3 triumph over the Blues in Christchurch on Saturday, Planet Rugby picks out five takeaways from the action.

Crusaders cream rises to the top

There were several internationals on display in this match, and although both sides gave their all for the full 80 minutes, the Crusaders’ All Blacks overshadowed their Test counterparts in the Blues’ ranks.

The likes of captain Scott Barrett, Codie Taylor and Cullen Grace were at the forefront of the home side’s forward onslaught and set a solid platform for their backs.

Meanwhile, in the backline, Leicester Fainga’anuku led the way on attack as he finished with a match-high 118 metres gained, while Will Jordan also caught the eye with several stunning line breaks.

Elsewhere, the playmaking skills of David Havili and Richie Mo’unga’s game management also came to the fore when it mattered most and helped their side seal a deserved victory.

Too much defending takes its toll on the Blues

Although they did not win this match, the Blues deserve plenty of credit for staying in it until the end, and that was largely down to a courageous defensive effort from the men from Auckland.

The Crusaders came out firing from the outset and were camped inside the Blues’ half for most of the opening half. In fact, after 15 minutes, the Blues had made 71 tackles compared to the Crusaders’ two! It was a similar story during the rest of the match, and in the end, the Blues completed a whopping 234 tackles to the champions’ 146.

Making such a huge number of tackles eventually took its toll on Leon MacDonald’s charges, and although they had some good moments on attack, it’s not a surprise that the Crusaders outscored them two tries to none.

Match played at great intensity

There was plenty said and written in the build-up to this encounter between these heavyweights of New Zealand’s north and south islands, and the game certainly lived up to its pre-match hype.

With little separating these sides on the Super Rugby Pacific table, the intensity levels were incredibly high throughout, and it was similar to a Test match as the teams gave their all for the full 80 minutes.

Both sides displayed great physicality from the outset, and we had to wait a full half hour before the opening points were posted. Although the Crusaders scored the only tries in this encounter, the match was in the balance for long periods, and the Blues continued to fight until the game’s latter stages.

Poor discipline proves costly for the Blues

The big talking point in this match was the dangerous hit from Blues skipper Dalton Papalii on Mo’unga in the build-up to Fainga’anuku’s try in the 43rd minute.

Referee Nic Berry initially issued a yellow card to Papalii, but it was upgraded to a red card after being reviewed by the TMO. That meant the Blues had to play with 14 men for 20 minutes, and although they did not concede any points during that time, they certainly missed Papalii’s leadership and influence at the breakdowns during the rest of the match.

Apart from that incident, the Auckland-based outfit’s discipline were also lacking in other areas and in the end, they conceded 12 penalties to the Crusaders’ six.

Tamaiti Williams shows his versatility

The Crusaders prop has already caught the eye with several outstanding performances this season and continued to impress with another excellent display at the coalface of his team’s forward effort.

However, he was thrown in at the deep end in this encounter when the Crusaders lost the services of veteran loosehead prop Joe Moody to a leg injury as early as the eighth minute.

Oli Jager came on as a replacement for Moody, but it was Williams who was shifted from his usual tighthead position, and he gave a good account of himself during a 74-minute stint on the field. Swapping positions in the front-row at scrum time is one of the toughest things to do in the game, and the 22-year-old deserves plenty of praise as he stood up well at the set-piece throughout his time on the field.

READ MORE: WATCH: Leicester Fainga’anuku rounds off ACROBATICALLY in Crusaders’ win over Blues