Well, what more could you ask for from a 2022 final rematch? Eden Park on a Saturday night. 24,000 + in the stands. Two teams throwing everything at it for the win. This is what Super Rugby is all about.
The Crusaders were pleased to come away with a win and the points in Round 4 of the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific competition.
It was always going to be a biggie. We all knew that. Four changes in the lead and nine tries, some big calls and contentious moments. Mark Telea opened the scoring in the 8th with a display of running rugby, quickly converted by Beauden Barrett. 7-0 to the hosts.
Some quick work in the Blues’ 22 and some good carries across the park resulted in Fergus Burke returning the favour in the 16th, Richie Mo’unga unable to add the extras. 7-5
A team effort in the 20th and Ethan Blackadder crashed over to bring up a change in the lead, this time Mo’unga with no doubt between the posts. 7-12 Crusaders
Caleb Clarke – one of 20 All Blacks across the two teams named on Saturday – made the most of a quick tap to break the Crusaders line in the 24th and even the scores before Barrett converted to bring up 14-12.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck capitalized on a huge run from freshly-minted Blues centurion Nepo Laulala moments later, dotting down under the posts followed by a quick Barrett conversion. The Blues away to a nine-point lead. 21-12
In impeccable form, Leicester Fainga’anuku collected a great pass from Mo’unga who drew in two defenders, putting down the seed in the left corner to open his account for the night. Mo’unga added two more to narrow the gap. An absolutely relentless 33 minutes of attacking rugby. 21-19
A big moment in the 36th, with Blues’ front rower Jordan Lay sinbinned forcing some staffing changes for the hosts. Alex Hodgman had exited early due to injury, and Kurt Eklund had to come on following Lay’s punishment. Forced to play uncontested scrums the Blues had to drop to 13 to ensure a complete front row.
Moments later Fainga’anuku crashed over in the left corner again to bring up a lead change before oranges. 21-24 Half time
The Blues came out strong in the second 40, quickly pushing deep into Crusaders territory and holding possession. Then a Mo’unga – Fainga’anuku combo swung momentum.
Mo’unga kicked wide metres from his own line, connecting with Fainga’anuku who juggled the ball, fended Tuivasa-Sheck and ran end-to-end to add five more. Mo’unga added the extras and Crusaders took a 10-point lead. 21-31
A converted try from Stephen Perofeta – playing his 50th for the Blues – closed the gap in the 55th but they’d be the last points scored by the Blues for the evening. 28-31
Mo’unga knocked over a penalty in the 64th to bring up 28-34. The Blues bounced back in the final 20, with several tries awarded then retracted when replays showed desperate defense from the Crusaders denied the grounding.
The full-time whistle blew, the cheer went up and the stands began to empty. A tough night for the Blues but a successful one for the Crusaders.
“We’re really proud and pleased,” Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson told gathered media post-match.
“We’ve had a few injuries, but the guys have come in and stood right up. We’ve had five or six debutants already this year and they’ve been awesome.”
Captain Scott Barrett said Saturday’s game was “a step forward from last week”, when the boys lost to Fijian Drua in Lautoka.
“Round four, the blues at home, it was a timely game for us to own it,” Barrett said.
“When the Blues get into free air and space they’re pretty lethal with the calibre of athletes in their back line and they pushed us right till the end.
“We really had to dig deep in our defense and there were a couple of moments where we just held on, so yeah, proud of the effort.”