Crusaders too good for Blues

Richie Mo’unga of the Crusaders makes a break against the Blues. Photo: Getty
Richie Mo’unga of the Crusaders makes a break against the Blues. Photo: Getty

If there was a buoyancy around the Blues this week following their meritorious victory in Newcastle, it has been well and truly sunk by a Crusaders side at Eden Park determined to prove their qualities as title contenders after a rare flop in Hamilton.

Scott Robertson's men had it all over the Blues in the set piece – they ruled the Blues at lineout time and they won penalties for fun at scrum time as they ran out winners 25-8.

It was not a good way for Leon MacDonald's men to prepare for two weeks in South Africa – they are due to leave tomorrow.

With skipper Scott Barrett smashing everything that moved during his 59 minutes on the field and young lock Cullen Grace doing similarly well alongside him, the Crusaders quickly built an advantage up front.

Perhaps during the week they had read about the Blues being confident in their pack, and wanted to have the last say. It was their 11th consecutive win over their northern rivals, a streak that dates back to 2014.

In the end it was hardly a contest but still the Crusaders couldn't quite stretch their lead to be absolutely comfortable, although as the clock ticked past 65 minutes and the Blues tried but failed to break through, it was easily good enough.

"They put us under pressure at set piece," MacDonald said afterwards. "That's an area where we were pretty strong in over the first couple of rounds. They obviously did their homework there and got the results and it flowed through to the rest of their game. It won't be pretty watching on the video but we'll have to suck this one up – we're on the plane to South Africa."

That platform allowed a backline stacked with firepower to look increasingly comfortable.

First-five Richie Mo'unga, out last week due to injury, was as sharp as he nearly always is and with Jack Goodhue alongside him providing the assist for George Bridge's try and helping Mo'unga's, as well as scoring one himself, they had too many strike weapons.

"Richie's on top of his game… he makes a big difference to that team," MacDonald said.

It began promisingly enough for the Blues. Skipper Patrick Tuipulotu stretched across the line after six minutes but despite the quality in both sides the match didn't catch fire due to the near constant mistakes and early injuries to Blues lock Josh Goodhue, who hurt an ankle, and Crusaders prop Oli Jager, who came off second best when clashing heads with hooker Codie Taylor.

First-five Stephen Perofeta had his moments and was heavily involved in Tuipulotu's try, but missed a relatively easy conversion, with Harry Plummer taking over the kicking in the second half after replacing fullback Matt Duffie.

In the first half the Crusaders played what for them was the right end of the field – helped by a wind which convinced the otherwise excellent David Havili to unsuccessfully try a penalty from 59m out - but made a few curious decisions of their own after a brilliant offload by Goodhue put Bridge over in the corner.

Mo'unga's try – he was over untouched after a Goodhue break – was just what Robertson would have wanted straight after halftime. There was a little bit of luck in Goodhue's try – his nifty left-foot chip was touched and regathered by Mo'unga before the midfielder was re-delivered the ball.

"We made nearly 200 tackles and they didn't make 100, so there was a lot of defence," Robertson said. "Our scrum was great and our lineout was superb. We left a lot of points out there too, it would have been nice to get a bonus point."

Crusaders 25 (George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Jack Goodhue tries; David Havili 2 pens, 2 cons), Blues 8 (Patrick Tuipulotu try; Harry Plummer pen). Halftime: 11-6

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