The Crusaders showed their championship credentials to overcome the Blues 21-13 in Christchurch on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
It was an enthralling encounter that could've gone either way, but the Crusaders were able to shift up a gear when required to seal the win and stay at the top of the New Zealand conference.
The match was a great exhibition of Super Rugby, with plenty of quality linebreaks, passes in contact and some crunching hits on display from both sides, particularly in the first half.
It was the Crusaders who would land the first blow of note, as Nemani Nadolo bustled his way over in the corner following some good work down the narrow side. The decision to award the try was reminiscent of the Patrick Osborne 'try' that was disallowed in the Crusaders' victory over the Highlanders earlier this season, with the hosts once again getting a favourable call. Nevertheless, the Saders were making all the play at that stage and could've grabbed a second were it not for some great work from Frank Halai.
The hosts looked for all money like they were going to extend their lead after Ryan Crotty bust up the middle of the park and offloaded to Dominic Bird, who was felled just short of the line. Halai had other plans, though, moving swiftly off his line to intercept an Andy Ellis pass and race the length of the field to score. It was a 14-point swing that kept the Blues in the game. Colin Slade missed two kicks just prior to half time as the Blues went in 13-11 to the good.
The scoreline would stay that way until the 66th minute as the game descended into a real arm wrestle. The Crusaders hit the front from the boot of Dan Carter after Colin Slade went off following a hefty midfield collision with Ma'a Nonu.
Carter then played a pivotal role in the deciding score, slipping a delicate pass for Nadolo to crash over for his second of the night. The New Zealand flyhalf slotted the conversion to make it an eight-point ball game and dash the Blues' hopes of a play-off spot.
Crusaders – Tries: Nemani Nadolo (2). Conversion: Dan Carter. Penalties: Slade (2), Carter.
Blues – Try: Frank Halai. Conversion: Ihaia West. Penalties: West (2).
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Johnny McNicholl.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sam Prattley, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Francis Saili, 23 George Moala.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images