The Crusaders cruised to a 28-13 victory over the Blues in Christchurch on Friday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The Blues came into this game as slight favourites having beaten the champion Highlanders last week, while the Crusaders had lost to the Chiefs. But lamentable decision-making, a misfiring lineout and a crumbling scrum cost Tana Umaga's side.
While not as fluent as we know they can be, the Crusaders were full value for their win. They dominated the set pieces and field possession, and showed more aggression and intensity at the breakdowns, which troubled the Blues defence.
Richie Mo'unga posed a constant threat to the Blues by taking the ball to the line and it was the young flyhalf who opened the scoring early on with a penalty. However, that advantage was cancelled out eight minutes later when flank Jordan Taufua was penalised for going off his feet at the breakdown and Matt McGahan drew the Blues level.
The Blues continued to plot their own downfall as the half progressed, conceding seven penalties and making as many handling errors as the Crusaders struck again.
After three scrum resets right on the 5m line, the referee awarded the hosts a penalty try which Mo'unga converted before slotting a second penalty for a 10-point lead.
The Blues wrestled back a bit of scrum control towards the closing stages of the half, but they were too far inside their own territory to make it count on the scoreboard.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first, with the Crusaders pinning the Blues back in their own half. But despite all their attacking play, it was Ihaia West who narrowed the deficit with a long-range penalty.
Nemani Nadolo thought he was in for the Crusaders when a Mo'unga penalty went well wide. The winger collected the ball to dot down in the corner, but replays showed he went into touch. Mo'unga, though, added three more points to his team's tally soon after.
The Blues had defended bravely until that point, but when a poor clearance kick found Nadolo, the Fijian powerhouse pinned back his ears and sliced through the Blues defence before bouncing off the first man, Matt Duffie, who attempted to tackle him. The league convert was flung through the air and two phases later Kieran Read scored the try.
A lapse in concentration by the Crusaders saw wing Tevita Li pull a converted try back for the Blues, but the hosts made up for it in the final minute of the match when Mo'unga scored their third to finish off a dominant display.
Crusaders – Tries: Penalty try, Kieran Read, Richie Mo'unga. Conversion: Mo'unga (2). Penalties: Mo'unga (3).
Blues – Try: Tevita Li. Conversion: Ihaia West. Penalties: Matt McGahan, West.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Kieron Fonotia, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Johnny McNicholl.
Blues – 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Matt McGahan, 9 Billy Guyton, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino (c), 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Male Sa'u.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images