Crusaders muscle too much for Blues

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Saturday, May 19, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Heavy rain before the game, and the odd shower during the second half, made precision tough for both sides although the confidence of the Crusaders side allowed them out to a 22-5 lead before the Blues battled their way back through the combined quality of second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams and wing Rieko Ioane.
The vaunted Crusaders' defence was given a workout by the competition lightweights but there was no doubting the coherence of their pack in controlling the ball, and the game through the vital stages. Captain Matt Todd had his impact at the breakdown and it told.

But there was more of the traditional rivalry between the two sides than might have been expected given their respective records this year.

Turning back a Stephen Perofeta downfield kick, fullback David Havili ran the ball back at the Blues. He linked with first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga, who had to catch the ball behind his back. He onpassed to centre Jack Goodhue who put a kick slightly infield and with no cover, wing George Bridge won the race to the touchdown in the third minute.

Three minutes later the Blues replied after flanker Jerome Kaino charged down a kick from Mo'unga just out from the Crusaders' 22m area. Wing Melani Nanai tidied the ball and made ground on the flank and from the ruck Perofeta's high pass was dragged in by Ofa Tuungafasi, who flung a back pass in the direction of Rieko Ioane.

He set sail past his marker Seta Tamanivalu and when the cover impeded his progress he passed inside to fullback Matt Duffie who had been in support.

Scrum power was the direct contributor to the Crusaders' second try, having come after three efforts to secure the ball, and at each effort the visitors had the superior combination which finally resulted in a charge at the line with lock Quinten Strange getting the ball over the chalk.

Both sides suffered handling issues, and injuries, in the tricky conditions. The Blues lost try scorer Duffie to concussion suffered in an aerial collision with Crusaders wing Manasa Mataele while Crusaders second five-eighths Ryan Crotty suffered an arm injury. The Crusaders were saved from losing prop Owen Franks to the sin bin for foul play against Blues hooker James Parsons in a tackle, hitting with an arm to his head which resulted in Parsons leaving the field for an HIA assessment.

But while he was off the field, the Blues saw Sonny Bill Williams run a superb angle to take a reverse pass from Perofeta to break the Crusaders' defence and then link with wing Rieko Ioane who scored. In reviewing the Franks incident referee Glen Jackson ruled it was too late to take any action.

Franks then played a key role in a lineout maul just after the halftime hooter which rumbled towards the Blues line and when stopped it was halfback Bryn Hall who ran the blindside to get through for the try.

Strange wasn't so fortunate when his act of picking up Jerome Kaino and dumping resulted in a yellow card six minutes into the second half, and the Blues were quick to take their chance with several forward thrusts before the ball was released for Ioane to score his second try. An early charge by Mataele resulted in Perofeta having a second conversion attempt which he goaled.

A 63rd minute turnover conceded by the Crusaders saw the ball moved to the left flank where Rieko Ioane tidied the ball before setting off down the sideline to find replacement fullback Michael Collins in support and he was able to outpace the defence and finally ground the ball in the cover tackle.

Scorers: Blues 24 (Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane 2, Michael Collins tries; Stephen Perofeta 2 con) Crusaders 32 (George Bridge, Quinten Strange, Matt Todd, Bryn Hall tries; Richie Mo'unga 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 12-29