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The Crusaders' 29-6 win over the Blues in Christchurch today eliminated the Auckland franchise from contention, as the Blues came away empty handed. It was the first time in four years the Blues failed to score a try.
The Blues needed at least a bonus point to remain a mathematical hope of making the final leading into next weekend's game against the Chiefs. However, that match will be for little more than pride now as, although a bonus-point win would put the Blues level on points with the Chiefs, the Chiefs have more wins, which is the tiebreaker.
Crusaders first five-eighth Richie Mo'unga was a bright spot in a scrappy contest, causing all sorts of problems for the Blues defence with ball in hand, while right wing Sevu Reece put in an impressive defensive performance with four turnovers and double-digit tackles.
The Crusaders, looking to bounce back from a loss last time out, started the game looking ominous on attack. However, the Blues seemed up to the task with some good defensive work on their own line and some important turnovers early on.
However, it wasn't long before the Crusaders broke through. With a broken line ahead of him, Crusaders fullback Will Jordan burst through around the Blues 22, beating five defenders on his way to scoring the first try of the game after five minutes.
Discipline was an issue for the Crusaders early, conceding the first three penalties of the game, however the Blues failed to make anything of the extra possessions. They came close the answering Jordan's try through No 8 Hoskins Sotutu, but he was pulled down short of the line.
It was a messy half of rugby, and that contributed to the Crusaders' second try. A forward pass from the Blues deep inside their own territory gifted the hosts possession, and Reece soon crossed on the right wing.
Trailing 12-0 at halftime, the Blues got on the board early in the second period through an Otere Black penalty. The sides then traded three-pointers, before Codie Taylor scored his seventh try of the year to extend his lead as the competition's top try scorer.
With 20 minutes to go, the Blues still had a chance but were unable to get themselves into many try scoring situations, and made mistakes when they did. With eight minutes to play, Jordan crossed for his second of the day to put the nail in the Blues' coffin and secure a home final.
Crusaders 29 (Will Jordan 2, Sevu Reece, Codie Taylor tries; Richie Mo'unga 3 cons, pen)
Blues 6 (Otere Black 2 pens)