Blues hold Crusaders to a tight win

George Bridge of the Crusaders makes a break during the Super Rugby match between the Blues and...
George Bridge of the Crusaders makes a break during the Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park. Photo: Getty Images
The Blues have suffered an excruciating defeat to the defending champion Crusaders in a cliffhanger finish which will hurt new coach Leon MacDonald but leave him optimistic that better things will happen this season.

With two minutes remaining, Blues replacement Harry Plummer missed a penalty from 40m out which would have resulted in a remarkable comeback victory for the Blues, who were down 12-3 at halftime and seemingly out of the match.

Sometimes it's the hope that is the cruellest thing and this one will hurt the players and their long-suffering supporters. The Blues' losing streak to New Zealand teams now stretches to 20 matches – their last derby win was in round one of 2016 – and this could hardly have been closer.

The miss was tough on Plummer but he missed an earlier one too and at this level they all add up.

It was a strange old game and one which neither side knew how to win. In the end it was probably muscle memory that got the Crusaders home because they were matched up front and occasionally dominated but had a little too much class in the backline.

They were awarded two penalty tries by referee Nick Briant – one for a collapsed maul for which impressive blindside flanker Tom Robinson was sinbinned, and one for a collapsed attacking scrum, but they earned the ire of the official too for constant second-half offending and replacement hooker Ben Funnell was yellow carded after the break.

Elsewhere there was little between the teams apart perhaps from Crusaders backs Braydon Ennor, George Bridge, David Havili and especially their wing Manasa Mataele, who scored two tries.

Down at halftime, the Blues roared back into it via the extremely good Akira Ioane, and a try to replacement prop Ofa Tuungafasi, which allowed the home side to take the lead.

But as they generally do, the Crusaders hit back straight away via Mataele before the Blues threatened a grandstand finish when halfback Augustine Pulu went over.

Loose forward Ioane, celebrating his 50th game for the Blues, was a standout and appeared to want to get his side home by himself such was his impact. And when Tuungafasi and fellow All Black Karl Tu'inukuafe joined the fray on 50 minutes as the Blues laid siege to the Crusaders' line, the momentum shifted considerably.

By this stage the crowd had found their voice and it was all the visitors could do to stay in the game as their previously impregnable defence started leaking tackles and then tries.

The returning Ma'a Nonu played a full 80 minutes and should be pleased with his performance; a typically blockbusting one which included a run over the top of Richie Mo'unga and a bone-shaking tackle on Jordan Taufua.

Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu was good too, as was new boy Robinson, the abrasive Northlander with the shock of red hair who is set to impress hugely this season.

They were good, and had to be to get this close to the Crusaders, who were without All Blacks Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Codie Taylor.

In this case they weren't quite good enough, but the signs are there that a derby win isn't far away. MacDonald's arrival has clearly made a difference.

It's still very early days of course but what the Blues do appear to have is a genuine willingness to work hard for each other on defence, and, on the other side of the coin, probably the best attacking loose forward in the competition in Ioane.


Crusaders 24 (Manasa Mataele 2 tries; 2 penalty tries)

Blues 22 (Akira Ioane, Ofa Tuungafasi, Augustine Pulu tries; Otere Black pen, con, Harry Plummer con)

Halftime: 12-3


- Patrick McKendry


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