Crusaders cruise to big win over Blues

Israel Dagg takes a high ball for the Crusaders against the Blues last night. Photo: Getty
Israel Dagg takes a high ball for the Crusaders against the Blues last night. Photo: Getty
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an extremely movable object?

The answer was as you'd expect when the best team in New Zealand took on the worst, as the Crusaders thrashed the Blues 54-17 in Christchurch.

Given they had nothing to play for with Super Rugby's top spot already locked up, the Crusaders took a while to hit top gear, but when they did, 28 points in the last 17 minutes emphasised why they are going to be so difficult to stop come playoff time.

The Crusaders have the benefit of home advantage throughout those playoffs, and that is a significant boon, given they have won 17 games in a row in Christchurch. You have to go back to July 2016 since the Crusaders last tasted defeat in front of their home fans, and those victories are rarely tight affairs.

In all venues, the Crusaders have now won 12 games in a row, and Scott Robertson's side finish the regular season with 14 wins, two defeats, a stellar points differential of +247, and the best defence in the competition.

Comparatively, the Blues have stumbled across the line in 14th, just ahead of just the lowly Sunwolves, and still haven't beaten a New Zealand team since February 2016.

Their defeat to the Crusaders was their 19th straight Kiwi derby without success, and they were never really in the hunt.

The out-of-position midfield combination of Rieko Ioane and Michael Collins once again failed to click, struggling as part of a Blues defensive backline which gave the Crusaders too much space when defending their line.

The Crusaders backline profited, with Jack Goodhue grabbing a double, and the gaping holes allowed the impressive George Bridge to notch a hat-trick, which takes him atop the competition's try-scoring ladder, with 14 for the season.

The sloppy defensive performance wasn't an ideal send-off for the departing Jerome Kaino after 139 games of service for the Blues, but after suffering through years of pain – the Blues making the playoffs just once since 2007 - what could he have realistically expected?

If the Blues are a shambles, then the Crusaders are an embarrassment of riches. They were without their All Blacks front row of Joe Moody, Owen Franks and Codie Taylor, while Scott Barrett and David Havili were rested. Such talent missing would usually be a significant problem, but the Crusaders were left with, oh, only 12 players with All Blacks experience, and boy did it show.

In fairness, the Blues did have their moments - but that's what makes them so frustrating. They always produce patches of potential – last night, there was a strong spell after the Crusaders' opening try and a brief second half flurry – but the complete performance has been missing for so long that it's a wonder when they'll ever find it again.

When they reduced the gap to 26-17, the Blues had a hope, but the Crusaders' response showed why this result was never in question. Now, as a Super Rugby title looks more likely by the week, it's time to pose a more pertinent query.

How is anyone going to stop the Crusaders?

Crusaders 54 (G. Bridge 3, J. Goodhue 2, S. Tamanivalu, S. Whitelock, B. Hall tries, R. Mo'unga 4 cons, M. Hunt 3 cons), Blues 17 (M. Nanai 2, penalty try). HT: 19-5

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