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Crusaders keep play-off hopes alive

SUPER SATURDAY WRAP: The Crusaders have kept their hopes of playing in the Super Rugby Pacific play-offs alive with an incredible 29-27 win over Kiwi rivals the Blues at Christchurch.

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With the eighth-placed Fijian Drua sitting six points above the defending champions on the ladder, the Crusaders needed to win to at least have a chance to crack the top eight.

They hadn’t won since a 39-0 win over the Melbourne Rebels on April 26, but Noah Hotham and Chay Fihaki were among the standouts during the hard-fought win at Christchurch.

“I think [a performance like this] has been there, but we haven’t capitalised on opportunities,” said captain Codie Taylor, who spent much of a physical match bloodied from a head gash.

“We knew what we were up against with the Blues, a real class side. You could see they deserve to be where they are. But there was a lot of chat about the boys who have been before us and what this meant to them, and it was good to get a result.”

The match was close but for a period between the 22nd and 35th minutes when Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi scored two tries to give his team a 15-7 lead.

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But the Crusaders scored a vital try through wing Chay Fihaki right on halftime and cut the deficit at the break to three points.

That set up a thrilling second half in which the Crusaders captured the lead for the first time in more than 40 minutes after a try by scrumhalf Noah Hotham. That gave them a 26-22 advantage, which became 29-22 after a penalty from Fihaki in the 67th.

The Blues rallied with a try by wing AJ Lam, but flyhalf Harry Plummer missed the sideline conversion and the Crusaders clung to their two-point margin to the joy of a capacity crowd.

The loss sends a playoff warning to the Blues, who looked formidable while building an 11-1 record. While they looked solid in the first half, they lost their shape and patience in the second. They were best when they stacked together phases, but as tension built they played more individually and the Crusaders capitalised.

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Elsewhere, Moana Pasifika have put the NSW Waratahs out of their misery, officially ending the Australian’s finals hopes with a rousing 27-12 victory in Auckland.

Even the Waratahs had conceded it was “ridiculous” they could still make the playoffs after winning only two of 12 matches in 2024.

But Saturday’s four-tries-to-two defeat left the last-placed Tahs with no mathematical hope of scraping into the finals.

Instead they must beat the Queensland Reds in their last game of the season next Friday at Allianz Stadium to avoid sending off outgoing coach Darren Coleman with the dreaded wooden spoon.

Tim Ryan’s stocks have soared to historic heights as the Queensland Reds hit top gear in a 46-point thumping to all but end the Western Force’s Super Rugby Pacific season.

The 20-year-old wing made Reds history with his second hat-trick of the season in Saturday’s 59-13 win at Suncorp Stadium, returning flyhalf Tom Lynagh also impressing as the Reds piled on nine tries to one.

Ryan out-jumped his rival winger to score in the fourth minute, then had a second try rubbed out minutes later when an earlier pass was called forward.

He found space immediately after the break, Ryan pinning his ears back from 40 metres out to finish a brilliant counter-attack.

Ryan then hit a gap and defied cramp to stumble over in the 75th minute and become the first Reds player to notch multiple hat-tricks.

He now has nine tries in just four career starts and seven appearances in total.

Already boasting his own fan club in the stands, Ryan’s form is demanding Test consideration ahead of Wales’ tour of Australia in July.

Lynagh, back from a hamstring complaint, pushed his case too as he ran hard at the line and found gaps with short passes to slice up the visitors.

The Force beat the Reds 40-31 in Perth earlier this season but barely threatened the Reds’ line in the rematch to the delight of 12,321 appreciative fans.

The Reds (7-6) starved them of possession and defended stoutly to lock in a quarter-final in Hamilton against the Chiefs with one regular-season game remaining.

The result left the Force (4-9) in ninth, needing to beat the Brumbies in Perth next week and hope the eighth-placed Fijian Drua – and equal-ninth Crusaders – lose their remaining games.

Flanker Fraser McReight also scored twice, his second another beautiful full-field shift featuring a brilliant show-and-go from 50-game centre Josh Flook.

Their win came a week after a sapping away loss to Fiji, the Reds the first of six teams to achieve that feat this season.

All Saturday’s results:

Crusades 29-27 Blues

The scorers:

For Crusaders:
Tries: Blackadder, Fihaki, Lio-Willie,Hotham
Cons: Burke, Fihaki 2
Pen: Fihaki

For Blues:
Tries: Tu’ungafasi 2, Lam 2
Cons: Plummer 2
Pen: Plummer

Teams:

Crusaders: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Chay Fihaki, 13 Levi Aumua, 12 David Havili, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Fergus Burke, 9 Noah Hotham, 8 Christian Lio-Willie, 7 Ethan Blackadder, 6 Cullen Grace, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Antonio Shalfoon, 3 Fletcher Newell, 2 Codie Taylor (captain), 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 George Bell, 17 George Bower, 18 Tamaiti Williams, 19 Jamie Hannah, 20 Tom Christie, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Taha Kemara, 23 Dallas McLeod.

Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Tele’a, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Corey Evans, 11 AJ Lam, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Taufa Funaki, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Adrian Choat, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Joshua Fusitu’a, 18 PJ Sheck, 19 Josh Beehre, 20 Cameron Suafoa, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Cole Forbes, 23 Caleb Tangitau.

Referee: James Doleman
Assistant referees: Jono Bredin, Fraser Hannon
TMO: Chris Hart

Moana Pasifika 27-12 Waratahs

The scorers: ‘

For Moana Pasifika:
Tries: Kepu, Inisi 2, Taumoefolau
Cons: Havili 2
Pen: Havili

For Waratahs:
Tries: Perese, Gleeson
Con: Bowen

Teams:

Moana: 15 Danny Toala, 14 Fine Inisi, 13 Pepesana Patafilo, 12 Julian Savea, 11 Neria Fomai, 10 William Havili, 9 Aisea Halo, 8 Lotu Inisi, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Jacob Norris, 5 Allan Craig, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Samiuela Moli, 1 Abraham Pole.
Replacements: 16 Tomasi Maka, 17 Tevita Langi, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Ola Tauelangi, 20 Alamanda Motuga, 21 Siaosi Nginingini, 22 Christian Lealiifano, 23 Jenry Taefu.

Waratahs: 15 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Joey Walton, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Dylan Pietsch, 10 Tane Edmed, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Charlie Gamble, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Hugh Sinclair, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Brad Amituanai, 2 Jay Fonokalafi, 1 Harry Lloyd.
Replacements: 16 Ben Sugars, 17 Lewis Ponini, 18 Mike Scott, 19 Miles Amatosero, 20 Fergus Lee-Warner, 21 Jack Grant, 22 Jack Bowen, 23 Vuate Karawelevu.

Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Reuben Keane, George Myers
TMO: Brett Cronan

Reds 59-13 Western Force

The scorers:

For Reds:
Tries: Ryan 3, Nasser, McReight 2, Faessler, Uru, Campbell
Cons: Lynagh 3, O’Connor
Pens: Lynagh 2

For Western Force:
Try: Kuenzle
Con: Kuenzle
Pens: Donaldson 2

Teams:

Reds: 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Tim Ryan, 13 Josh Flook, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Mac Grealy, 10 Tom Lynagh, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 John Bryant, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright, 5 Ryan Smith, 4 Seru Uru, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Matt Faessler, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Josh Nasser, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Connor Vest, 20 Joe Brial, 21 Kalani Thomas, 22 James O’Connor, 23 Taj Annan.

Force: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 George Poolman, 13 Bayley Kuenzle, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Ronan Leahy, 10 Ben Donaldson, 9 Nic White, 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Will Harris, 5 Izack Rodda, 2 Jeremy Williams, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Tom Horton, 1 Harry Hoopert.
Replacements: 16 Feleti Kaitu’u, 17 Marley Pearce, 18 Tiaan Tauakipulu, 19 Lopeti Faifua, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 22 Sam Spink, 23 Chase Tiatia.

Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant referees: Jordan Way, Jeremy Markey
TMO: James Leckie

Sources: AAP and Rugbypass

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