George Bridge scored three tries as the Crusaders hammered the Blues 54-17 in Christchurch on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Mission accomplished. The Crusaders have finished the conference stage with a record of 14 wins and two losses (to the Highlanders and Chiefs away from home).
The win against the Blues on Saturday marked the Crusaders’ 12th-consecutive victory, and will see them heading into a home quarter-final – against the Rebels or Sharks, depending on the outcome of the later match in Durban – with plenty of confidence.
The Crusaders worked hard for the result. Jack Goodhue crossed the line in the fourth minute to give the hosts the lead. Thereafter, the Crusaders were forced to defend their own tryline for a significant period of time.
Melani Nanai intercepted a flat pass and ran all the way to score in the 31st minute. The Crusaders hit back right before the break, though, with Mitchell Drummond exposing the poor defence at the ruck and handing the final pass to Seta Tamanivalu.
The ensuing conversion saw the Crusaders going to half-time with a 19-5 lead. Goodhue scored his second try in the 44th minute, and Richie Mo’unga added the extras.
Suddenly the Crusaders were out to a 21-point lead, and within sight of a bonus-point win.
The Blues’ powerful scrum earned them a penalty try. A spectacular finish by Nanai in the 56th minute reduced the deficit to nine points.
It didn’t take long for the Crusaders to shift gear, though. Bridge jetted in for his second try in the 64th minute, and completed his hat-trick eight minutes later.
Further tries by captain Sam Whitelock and Bryn Hall at the death capped off an excellent performance by the hosts.
The result sees the Blues finishing their campaign without a single win against New Zealand opposition.
Crusaders – Tries: Jack Goodhue (2), George Bridge (3), Seta Tamanivalu, Sam Whitelock, Bryn Hall. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (4). Mitchell Hunt (3).
Blues – Tries: Melani 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 Makali, 1 Tim Perry.
Subs: 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.
Subs: 16 Ross Wright, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Jacob Pierce, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Tamati Tua.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images