Sports

Super Rugby Classic: Blues edge Crusaders in thriller – Super Rugby Pacific


CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 15: Taufa Funaki from the Blues hugs Nepo Laulala after the final whistle during the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs at Orangetheory Stadium on April 15, 2022 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

Blues edge Crusaders 23-27 in an absorbing and thrilling Super Rugby Pacific clash at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.

The Blues held off a heroic fightback from the Crusaders to go top of Super Rugby Pacific and end an 18-year 14-game drought in the Garden City.

These two historic New Zealand franchises shared three tries apiece as the Blues managed to grind out a first win in Christchurch since 2004 when the great Carlos Spencer weaved his magic.

Both teams went into the match in sublime form, each winning 13 of their previous 14 Super Rugby games, separated only by points difference on the SR table.

Finlay Christie, Dalton Papali’i, and Kurt Eklund scored for the Blues, while the irrepressible Will Jordan and Sevu Reece (twice) dotted down for the Crusaders.

Jordan had another sublime match, scoring his 29th SR five-pointer. The 24-year-old score made it eight tries and four assists in his last 10 games.

He was also involved in both of Reece’s scores to cap off a magnificent display.

Numbers like these will keep the talk of him being on the same level as the great Christian Cullen going for some time.

Reece bagged another brace to take his tally of Super Rugby tries to 39.

Eklund’s sixth try of the season saw the hooker claim the position’s 28th try of the tournament (10 per cent of tries by position this year).

Stephen Perofeta (pen, 2 con) and Beauden Barrett (pen, con) both contributed to the surprising but deserved win.

Richie Mo’unga added two penalties and one conversion from the tee, but his two misses (four points) proved costly in the end, although, the defeat cannot be blamed on him.

This loss is on the defending champion’s ill-discipline saw them fortunate to only concede 10 points

The Crusaders fought back from a 14-point deficit with 13 players after David Havili (yellow) and Scott Robertson (red) were carded on either side of halftime.

Poor kicking by Perofeta, who missed two easy penalties, as well as the Blues going into their shell for the last quarter, almost saw the red machine mount another unbelievable came back at the death.

Despite playing with a disadvantage in numbers, the Saders cut the gap to four points with 10 minutes to play.

The visitors, however, fought off wave after wave of attacks by the home team after Reece’s second score tilted the momentum.

Scott Roberton’s championship outfit almost won the game at the death but for Rieko Ione’s try-saving tackle in the corner on Dominic Gardiner.

Another multiphase attack ended with a knock-on on the Blues’ line as the Auckland side finally broke their Christchurch hoodoo.

Blues led by 10 points but should have been in front by more after Crusaders’ ill-discipline went unpunished

The Blues took a two-score 17-7 lead over the Crusaders into the shed, and it should have been more if not for two missed goals by Perofeta.

Leon MacDonald’s men led through tries from Peebles-born Christie and skipper Papali’i and the boot of Perofeta.

The fullback opened the scoring after nine minutes before Jordan struck for his 29th Super rugby score.

Soon afterwards, the 10-time Super Rugby champions struck from a five-metre scrum after a mix-up between Perofeta and Beauden Barrett.

The magic man Jordan took Havili’s flat pass and slipped Mark Telea’s tackle to claim his 29th Super Rugby try.

Reece, at first receiver from the scrum, began the first-phase score, and Mo’unga converted.

As the game entered the second quarter, Beauden Barrett broke from his half into the Crusaders’ 22 before being brought down before the try line by Jordan and Reece.

Halfback Christie, at the back of the ruck, looked up and saw no defender on the pillar, and dotted down next to the poles. Perofeta added the extras to put the visitors back ahead.

The 25-year-old utility back again missed an easy shot at goal before the half-hour, but MacDonald’s side crossed two minutes later.

From a counter-attack, Christie went blind to Barrett, who sucked in Zach Gallagher and Oli Jager, before playing Papali’i on the sideline.

Papali’i cut inside the touchline and slipped Bryn Hall and Mo’unga’s double-tackle before speeding away to score untouched in the corner.

The conversion made it 17-7.

Havili was yellow-carded a minute before the break for a cynical strip of the ball from Perofeta’s hands while on the ground.

Crusaders lost the game on either side of the interval because of ill-discipline as the Blues continued to keep the scoreboard ticking

The fullback managed to miss again. Mo’unga’s early second-half penalty made it a one-score game.

Two minutes later, the game took another twist.

A forward pass ended a thrilling attack started by Mo’unga’s linebreak, but Alex Hodgman was down after a high shot to the jaw by Scott Barrett, who is sent off for foul play.

Older Barrett kicked to the corner, and his forwards did the rest from a powerful maul. Eklund – who else? – flopped over the whitewash, the Blues’ flyhalf converted to make it 24-10 to the visitors.

Barrett almost scored after a chip and chase from inside the opposition’s half; however, the ball bounces out of his hands for a scrum to the home team.

Crusaders began to increase the tempo, and turn pressure into points as the Blues defended to the death in the thrilling finale

Then the Crusaders struck after Mo’unga’s 50/22 set up an attack inside the Blues’ 22.

From the driving maul, the hosts went six phases until Pablo Matera sucked in two defenders, and floated a double-skip pass to Reece, who beat the cover defence to cut the gap.

Mo’unga’s conversion was unsuccessful, but when Rieko Ioane got caught offside on the hour, the first five-eighth made no mistake.

His opposite number Barrett knocked over a goal of his own after taking over kicking duties to reopen the Blues’ nine-point lead with 15 minutes remaining.

By now, the home side had a full quota of players and all the momentum as they searched for the knockout blow.

Jordan sliced open the Blues from his own half and raced to the 22.

The ball was recycled left to right before Mitchell Drummond sent a long, skip-pass to Reece to race away for another score.

Mo’unga could not convert. The Saders turned up the heat and intensity as they camped inside the opposition’s red zone.

Ioane’s last-gasp tackle on Gardiner saved the day.

The Blues’ forwards repelled a nine-phase attack on their line to claim the historic and heroic victory.

Final Score: Crusaders 23 (7) Blues 27 (17)

Scorers

Crusaders
Tries – Jordan, Reece (2)
Pen – Mo’unga (2)
Con – Mo’unga
Drop –
Cards – Havili (Yellow, 39′), S. Barrett (Red, 46′)

Blues
Tries – F. Christie, Papali’i, Eklund
Pen – Perofeta, B. Barrett
Con – Perofeta (2), B. Barrett
Drop –
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 1: James Doleman
Assistant Ref 2: Mike Winter
TMO: Aaron Paterson

Teams

Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 David Havili, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Zach Gallagher, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Oli Jager, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.

Replacements: 16 Ricky Jackson, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Dominic Gardiner, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Fergus Burke, 23 George Bridge.

Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Bryce Heem, 11 AJ Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papali’i (captain), 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman.

Replacements:
16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Jordan Lay, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 James Tucker, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Taufa Funaki, 22 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 23 Zarn Sullivan



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