Crusaders demolish Blues in ominous display
Injecting his world-class into the Crusaders line-up, No.8 and captain Kieran Read gave his side the steel needed to deal with the Blues' challenge to claim a decisive, and crucial, 23-3 Investec Super Rugby win at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
In typical Crusaders style, they made the most of entries deep into Blues territory and when the crucial moments were required Read, marked his return to play with a decisive display of tactical choice to turn the pressure on the Blues, especially by employing the lineout mauls which produced the vital try by prop Owen Franks.
Mistakes did not help the Blues cause when conceding penalties at vital stages while a penalty awarded just after the Crusaders got out to a 20-3 lead was kicked dead by first five-eighths Chris Noakes and the Crusaders immediately camped in Blues territory again. And a penalty conceded allowed the home team to extend the lead to 23-3.
The Blues tried a lineout maul of their own but their cause was not helped when a 63rd minute break saw wing Frank Halai look to get the ball grounded despite a tackle by replacement fullback Israel Dagg. However, the television match official ruled the grounding inconclusive. Then from the five-metre scrum replacement second five-eighths Francis Saili almost broke through but the Crusaders were able to clear.
The Blues attempted to apply the pressure through their pack in the first 20 minutes but had no initial reward, other than a dominance in position, for their efforts in drizzly weather conditions.
By comparison, the Crusaders when they gained territory made the most of it.
First off it was a penalty goal by fullback Tom Taylor in the 21st minute then, as Blues first five-eighths Chris Noakes attempted another of the many chip kicks he made over the Crusaders defences, it was second five-eighths Ryan Crotty who charged the ball down, regained it and was untroubled in a 22-m run for the line. Taylor added the conversion and the only response the Blues could make was a 29th minute penalty goal by Noakes.
The Crusaders were forced to make a change before the game when hooker Cory Flynn suffered a hamstring strain and was forced to withdraw and his place was taken by Ben Funnell.
Blues lock Calum Retallick was sin-binned right on the half-time break for a deliberate knock-on as the Crusaders attempted a breakout move. The move cost three points as Taylor landed the penalty goal.
While the conditions put the pressure for ball maintenance both sides were not afraid to move the ball at times. Lock Luke Romano unleashed a fine 50m sideline burst that was unable to produce a try due to desperate Blues defence. His run came after a Rene Ranger special as the big centre made the most of a turnover to break 40m downfield.
Inevitably, it seemed that back to stop any progress the Blues could make with the ball in hand was Carter who pulled off some outstanding tackles to deny the visitors. And as the Blues tried to play catch-up late in the game, Read pulled off some sizzling midfield spot tackles.
Once the Crusaders settled their lineout, in the second half, they claimed a vital advantage by executing their lineout drives and after three well-completed moves in which the Blues were penalised for coming around the mauls, it was Franks who grounded the ball over the line in the midst of the maul. Taylor's conversion took the Crusaders out to a 20-3 lead.
The Crusaders know when the turn the blowtorch up in the competition and they showed they were not out of the 2013 version yet.
Crusaders 23 (Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks tries; Tom Taylor, 2 con, 3 pen) Blues 3 (Chris Noakes pen). HT: 13-3