The Crusaders cruised to a 29-15 bonus-point win against the Blues in Christchurch on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Crusaders are back; perhaps not to their clinical best, but back on the right side of the result. This was their first victory in three matches, and the bonus point will ensure that they remain in play-off contention.
While there were moments where abject decision-making stalled their momentum, the one constant was the Crusaders' aggression and determination at the tackle. While their set pieces were good, it was the Crusaders' approach at the breakdowns and collisions that really troubled the Blues' defence.
Nemani Nadolo had an outstanding game. The winger didn't score a try himself, but was prominent in the buildup to two of the Crusaders' five-pointers.
The Crusaders took an early lead through a try by scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond. A sustained period on attack presented another opportunity, and when Nadolo received possession, most would have expected the giant Fijian to go for the line himself. Nadolo shaped to do so, before popping a neat pass inside to Jordan Taufua, who finished with a spectacular dive.
The hosts continued to dominate the set pieces and breakdowns, but there was a period in the second quarter where they didn't convert that dominance into points. The fruitless push for tries cost them, as the Blues hit back with a converted try, and with half-time approaching, the score was suddenly 14-10.
But the Crusaders would strike back in those crucial periods before and after the break. Colin Slade sunk a penalty before the half-time hooter, and then Tom Taylor crossed the line shortly after play resumed. Again, Nadolo was key in the buildup to the try.
The Blues were dealt a big blow when replacement scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park was yellow carded in the 54th minute for a cynical breakdown infringement. The visitors did well to resist the Crusaders surge for some time, but eventually Codie Taylor breached the defence for the Crusaders' bonus-point try.
The Crusaders took their foot off the pedal in the dying stages. This allowed the Blues to score again through Brendan O'Connor, and ultimately reduce the margin of defeat.
The win as well as the performance will give the Crusaders some confidence. However, they may be concerned about the form of two senior All Blacks, Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.
The pair was solid rather than spectacular in this fixture. More will be expected of Carter and McCaw as the tournament approaches the business end. If they fail to regain their influential form, the Crusaders may struggle to reach the semi-finals.
Crusaders – Tries: Mitchell Drummond, Jordan Taufua, Tom Taylor, Codie Taylor. Conversions: Colin Slade (3). Penalty: Slade.
Blues – Tries: Francis Saili, Brendan O'Connor. Conversion: Daniel Bowden. Penalty: Bowden.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 David Havili, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Tevita Li
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images