The Crusaders kept their play-off aspirations alive with a 34-11 bonus-point victory over the Blues in Auckland on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The visitors required maximum points to stay in the hunt for a spot at the business-end of the competition despite an indifferent campaign so far. And they did what was needed against an inexperienced, yet tenacious, Blues side.
The result takes the Crusaders into seventh spot, one point clear of the Lions, who play the Stormers later on.
John Kirwan's team started brightly and were full value for their 6-0 lead after a dominant opening 10 minutes. But that's as good as it got for them. The Crusaders found their range soon after and went on to score 34 answered points.
They opened their account with a brilliant try from Nemani Nadolo. With one hand, the Fijian plucked Dan Carter's pin-point cross-field kick out of the air to go in for his seventh try of season. The Crusaders followed up with a penalty from Carter and a second touchdown by No 4 lock Luke Romano to lead 17-6 at half-time.
The Blues made a promising start after the break, but stern Saders defence kept them at bay. And when tested at the other end, the hosts conceded a penalty try from a 5m scrum, which the Crusaders dominated.
Richie McCaw was then denied the all-important fourth try, brushing the chalk in the buildup, but flank Matt Todd barged over from the back of a driving maul moments later, with Carter adding the conversion to keep his perfect kicking record intact.
Ben Lam scored a late try for Blues, but it was too late to hurt the charging Crusaders.
Blues – Try: Ben Lam. Penalties: Ihaia West (2).
Crusaders – Tries: Nemani Nadolo, Luke Romano, penalty try, Matt Todd. Conversions: Dan Carter (4). Penalties: Carter (2).
Blues – 15 Matt Vaega, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Hamish Northcott, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nani, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Airi Hunt, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Will Lloyd, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Chris Vui, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Matt McGahan.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Matt Todd, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Ryan Crotty, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images