Crusaders show their class and blow Blues away
SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA MATCH REPORT: The Crusaders will host the Final, after they blew an error-prone Blues team away in Christchurch on Sunday.
The hosts, outscoring the visitors by four tries to none, showed their class to win 29-6.
The Crusaders, with just one round remaining, will finish top of the standings and host the Final on May 8.
The Blues, who will have plenty to reflect on, host the second-placed Chiefs in Auckland next week in a straight shootout to see who travels to Christchurch for the Final next month.
The Blues, who had plenty of possession and made well over 400 metres from their 80-odd carries, only have themselves to blame for the big margin of their defeat.
There was poor defence – a tackle completion rate of just over 80 percent – a high error rate and poor decision-making.
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The defending champions, after suffering two uncharacteristic losses in their past three matches, fired on all cylinders as they opened up an unassailable lead in the regular season.
The Blues’ failure to secure even a bonus point means the Chiefs are well-placed to be the other finalist.
The Chiefs require just a solitary bonus point to book their place in the grand Finale – a remarkable comeback.
After suffering 11 successive defeats, including all eight in Super Rugby Aotearoa 2020, the Hamilton-based franchise has won their last five matches.
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The Crusaders, in search of a second-consecutive domestic title and a fifth in a row in ‘Super Rugby’, led 12-0 at half-time.
After the Blues put points on the board with two penalties early in the second spell, the Crusaders emphasised their dominance with two further tries.
“After a couple of weeks which we haven’t been proud of as a team, we showed in that performance tonight that was what we want,” captain Scott Barrett said, adding the preparation had focussed on improving key areas.
“In the physical area, the collisions, having strong ball carriers. We just focussed on winning those regions.”
The Blues created opportunities in the first half and were rewarded for their decision to play two specialist openside flanks with Dalton Papalii and Blake Gibson winning regular turnover ball.
Co-Captain Papalii said he could not fault his side’s effort.
“We think it’s there, but it’s that extra support that we need to get better,” Papalii said.
“You can’t fault the effort but it’s the execution we need to get better,” he added.
But they had problems retaining possession and when the Crusaders attacked, the tackling was frequently ineffective.
Crusaders and All Black fullback Will Jordan stepped his way around five defenders to give the Crusaders their opening try in the fourth minute.
The Blues, meanwhile, missed a handy penalty and Hoskins Sotutu ground the ball just short of the line when it looked as if he would score.
But when the Crusaders had chances, they produced points with a wide cut-out pass from David Havili sending Sevu Reece over for their second try.
A flurry of penalties at the start of the second half, two to the Blues and one to the Crusaders, had the home side ahead 15-6 which they extended at the three-quarter mark when opting for a line-out over a penalty and Codie Taylor forced his way over.
Reece set up the final try with a crucial turnover which Havili chipped over the lined and Jordan won the race for the ball.
Man of the match: Caleb Clarke and Hoskins Sotutu made some good metres for the Blues. Loose forwards Dalton Papali’i and Blake Gibson were the visitors’ most productive players. Samuel Whitelock, Cullen Grace and Sione Havili Talitui put in big shifts up front for the Crusaders, David Havili – with his ability to read the game and make great decisions – also contributed massively to the win. Will Jordan scored two tries, including what must be a candidate for try of the season. Our award goes to the Crusaders’ All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who was not flawless, but the main conductor – making 70-plus metres with the ball in hand, produced great tactical kicking, created plenty of opportunities for his teammates and contributed nine points with the boot (three conversions and a penalty).
For the Crusaders
Tries: Jordan 2, Reece, Taylor
Cons: Mo’unga 3
For the Blues
Pens: Black 2
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Dallas McLeod, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane (co-captain), 12 Tanielu Tele’a, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii (co-captain), 6 Blake Gibson, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Taine Plumtree, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Otere Black, 23 AJ Lam.
Referee: James Doleman
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Paul Williams
TMO: Chris Hart