The Crusaders sealed their place at the top of the Super Rugby Aotearoa table by claiming a 29-6 victory over the Blues in Christchurch on Sunday.
Top dogs: The 2021 Aoetearoa season hasn’t been as comfortable as the 2020 season for the Crusaders, but the defending champions have done enough to once again finish as the top side with a round to play.
Losses to the Highlanders and Chiefs made Sunday’s match a crucial one. A loss to the Blues could have potentially seen Scott Robertson’s side finish second behind the Chiefs. Ultimately, the Crusaders’ championship quality shone through as they punished an error-strewn performance from the Blues.
Gameflow: The Crusaders made a white-hot start to the match, with Will Jordan scoring the game’s opening try inside the first five minutes. While the Blues tried their best to respond, they were excellently contained by a physical and accurate Crusaders defence.
The breakdown was a particular area that was intensely contested, with the Blues getting some joy in this area of the game thanks to the hard work of loose forward duo Dalton Papali’i and Blake Gibson, who made a combined five turnovers.
The hosts spent plenty of the first half working on defence and counter-attacking, but were ultimately more clinical. This was no less demonstrated when, in a rare entry into the Blues’ 22 after the visitors made an error, David Havili found Sevu Reece out wide, with the speedster goose-stepping his way past Stephen Perofeta to score.
The Blues were finally able to get on the scoreboard in the second half through a couple of penalties from Otere Black. However, the Crusaders laid the decisive blow on the hour mark when a powerful driving maul saw Codie Taylor score to give them a 16-point lead. The game was put to bed when Jordan grabbed his second try after winning the race to a loose ball in the final 10 minutes.
Wasted opportunities: As clinical as the Crusaders were, the Blues were wasteful. The visitors had more than enough opportunities – even when they were 16 points behind – to make it a nervous finish. However, Rieko Ioane and debutant hooker Soane Vikena both knocked on in the Crusaders’ 22, while Hoskins Sotutu had a try ruled out by the TMO. After the improvements made in 2020, the 2021 season has been disappointing for the Blues and they could find themselves finishing in fourth place after the final round next weekend.
Number that mattered: This was a game where the Crusaders’ defensive superiority came to the fore. The home side made 158 tackles to the Blues’ 104, but missed just three more tackles than their opponents.