Classy Crusaders cruise into final

GettyImages 1498886341

All the history associated with the finest unbroken run of six championship successes in the competition was laid out in an XV that was well below the best the Crusaders might have picked at the start of the season, yet whose 52 points were the most they have scored in a finals game.

Inexperienced as the combination was, they unleashed a defensive assault that knocked the Blues out of the game within minutes of the start. It was an impressive onslaught that left the visitors with only a 57th-minute try to first five-eighths Beauden Barrett and an injury-time try to wing Caleb Clarke to show for their efforts.

Cleverly controlled by first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga whose armchair ride behind a rampant forward pack, especially at the breakdowns, allowed him to call the shots in a 22-point contribution. At the same time, centre Braydon Ennor was able to unleash the power of wing Leicester Fainga'anuku and the speed of fullback Will Jordan to deadly effect.

No8 Christian Lio-Willie was the perfect foil for Tom Christie, especially with the ball in hand. At the same time, lock Quinten Strange complemented his captain Scott Barrett and hooker Codie Taylor in the tight exchanges where prop Tamaiti Williams excelled.

By comparison, the Blues were shell-shocked into indecision and error and found themselves down 3-32 by halftime, a position they hadn't been in since 2009 when playing the Bulls.

Centre Rieko Ioane marred his start to his 100th game when dropping a pass amid a solid Blues start. The ball was moved wide where wing Dallas McLeod kicked ahead to gain a 50-22, which the Crusaders used from the lineout and drive to give Ennor the space to run in an uncontested try.


Errors by lock Tom Robinson (dropped ball) and wing Mark Telea (poor pass) gave the Crusaders momentum they used to punish the Blues. It resulted in Jordan entering the line from the rear to give Fainga'anuku all the room he needed to score.

It didn't get any better when the Blues finally got their hands on the ball only to have prop Nepo Laulala drop the ball out from the line and then get penalised in the resulting play, relief only coming when the Crusaders infringed out from the Blues' goal-line.

Fielding a Crusaders kick, Barrett slipped at his 22m line, but when he passed to fullback Zarn Sullivan, he chose the wrong option, was tackled, and was penalised for not releasing the ball. That saw Mo'unga extend the lead in the 20th minute to 18-0.

Jordan made the most of a short pass from Ennor to run under the posts in the 35th minute after the Crusaders mounted a rolling maul that advanced 20m resulting in No8 Hoskins Sotutu being sin-binned for entering from the side. And from the lineout, Jordan scored.

Then, in typical Crusaders fashion, they finished the first half with a lineout maul resulting in a try for hooker Codie Taylor.

The Blues had possession, but they were pressured into errors in a game played at a high pace, and with the Crusaders gaining an edge in rucks, they created better chances for field position.

It didn't improve in the first stages of the second half, with the Crusaders easily able to counter any Blues initiatives. From a lineout, Fainga'anuku was fed the ball from a long throw to head into open territory, beat a tackle and then carry to score his second.

Whichever of the Chiefs or Brumbies the Crusaders meet in the final can prepare for the most intense investigation by the defending champions.

Scorers: Crusaders 52 (Braydon Ennor, Leicester Fainga'anuku 2, Will Jordan, Codie Taylor, Fergus Burke tries; Richie Mo'unga 5 con, 4 pen) Blues 15 (Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke tries; Barrett con, pen). HT: 32-3


View all