Champions Crusaders Survive Blues Scare

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Crusaders open their Super Rugby campaign with a hard-fourth 24-22 win over the over the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday.

The win is the Crusaders’ ninth straight victory over the Auckland team.

However,  it was not that easy for the Champions this time around. The Blues produced a very noteworthy performance and  scored three tries, but a brace by Manasa Mataele and two penalty tries handed Crusaders the advantage on the scoreboard.

The return of All Black great Ma’a Nonu took the spotlight leading up to the season opener. After three years in France, the All Black great – along with new head coach Leon MacDonald – injected some fresh vigor which was evident in the Blues’ performance.

The Blues enjoyed early possession and had ample opportunities inside the Crusaders’ 22, however the visitors’ defense was in fine form and the champions survived the early onslaughts.

The home side looked good with the ball in hand – which is certainly a positive sign for Blues head coach Leon MacDonald and after 13 minutes of play, the Blues’ effort was finally rewarded with a successful penalty kick by Otere Black.

Trailing 0-3 did not sit well with the Crusaders. From the restart, centre Braydon Ennor found the gap and looked certain to score the first try of the match, however a try-saving tackle by Melani Nanai halted his chances.

The Blues certainly appeared vulnerable in defence and after 18 minutes they finally folded when scrumhalf Bryn Hall’s cross-field kick from the back of the scrum found Manasa Mataele out wide for the first try of the match, 5-3.

After missed penalty kicks by both Black and Richie Mo’Unga respectively, the Crusaders started to build momentum and placed the Blues under extreme pressure courtesy of their set-piece work.

Despite the good attack, the Blues loss composure in defence and it momentarily it went a little pear-shaped for the side as the referee Nick Briant handed a yellow card to Tom Robinson and awarded the Crusaders with a penalty try, 12-3.

With a one-man advantage, one would have thought that the champions will start to dominated proceedings, instead it was the Blues who ended the first half in a better form.

On the brink of half-time, Nanai burst through some tackles before finding Akira Ioane, however Crusaders’ desperate defence kept the big No.8 at bay and made sure the Crusaders keep their 12-3 lead at the break.

The Blues started the second half in sublime fashion, could be regarded the moment of the match as burst by prop Alex Hodgman was neatly collected by A. Ioane, who peeled away from the Crusaders defense to score. Black added the extra to narrow deficit to just 2 points.

Within a space of five minutes the Blues took the lead.  After a series of scrums  A. Ioane, again, fend off few tackles before Ofa Tuungafasi crashed over the line for the score.  Plummer added the extra for the 17-12 lead.

The lead was short-lived, as Mataele sealed a brace of tries thanks to an explosive run from George Bridge. Again, Mo’unga failed to add the extras.

The visitors added to their lead just after the hour mark. They reverted to their first-half tactics and produced a massive scrum inside the Blues’ five metre. The hosts could not combat the set-piece and referee deemed that they brought down the scrum illegally and handed a second penalty try to the Crusaders.

With eight minutes to go, the Blues had a five-metre line-out, the side successfully collected the ball and after great pressure from the pack, replacement scrumhalf Augustine Pulu dived over the five-pointer.  Unfortunately for the Blues, Plummer missed the conversion.

Plummer soon had another chance to snatch the match from the Crusaders, however he missed the 45-metre kick.

The Blues’ attack did not subside but, Crusaders’ defence were just too good and the champions sealed the narrow 24-22 win at Eden Park.

The Blues travel to South Africa next to take on the Sharks, while the Crusaders host the Hurricanes at Christchurch.

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