Crusaders too solid for hesitant Blues
Recovering some of their mojo against a disjointed Blues side, the Crusaders claimed a much-needed 29-15 bonus point win at AMI Stadium on Saturday night.
Big wing Nemani Nadolo provided early havoc for the Blues defences and with the side's heavyweights flanker Richie McCaw, No.8 Kieran Read, lock Sam Whitelock and first five-eighths Colin Slade stepping up to match the effort of flanker Jordan Taufua, the Blues found themselves playing catch-up.
There was concern for McCaw when he left the field in the final quarter after a head knock
The Blues' early lineouts were messy and played into the Crusaders hands to give them momentum from the outset and the result was another unforgiving night at the office for the visitors.
Then late in the game when they needed to be maximising chances often the desire to keep the game moving saw too many passes mis-directed and more often than not ending in touch.
The fine line that tends to be weighted against teams down on their luck was demonstrated in a crucial act in the game two minutes into the second half.
The Crusaders were running the ball just outside the Blues 22m area but it was grounded. However, in launching a fly-kick at the ball lock Josh Bekhuis kicked the ball across the field instead of downfield.
It was secured by fullback Tom Taylor. He passed to strong man Nadolo who powered down the sideline and then in-passed to Taylor who scored to take the Crusaders to a 24-10 lead.
Any hope the Blues had of launching a second half comeback was lost in the 52nd minute when replacement halfback Jamison Gibson-Park was sin-binned for not releasing a tackled player after a Crusaders breakout from their own line.
The punishment was almost instantaneous when a sweeping Crusaders movement took play to the Blues line and after two recycles the ball was moved wide again where hooker Codie Taylor scored the bonus point try.
The Crusaders demonstrated early that they wanted to make an early impression and when Francis Saili's kick missed touch, the response in the second minute saw the ball moved to Nadolo, who was standing in midfield.
He drew two defenders and slipped the ball to centre Ryan Crotty who sped into space and when confronted he found halfback Mitchell Drummond in support and he went through to score.
Further intent came from a penalty awarded just inside the Blues half. Slade looked at the posts but Read ordered the kick to the corner. Working a move off the front of the lineout, where flanker Jordan Taufua on the five-metre line worked a move with Drummond. The ball was flicked infield. The Blues looked to intercept a pass, but it was knocked on. Advantage was played and Nadolo again shaped to take on the defence only to pass inside to Taufua who unleashed a spectacular dive for the try.
Twice eschewing opportunities to kick for goal from penalties in the Blues 22m, the Crusaders were unable to convert the chances into points on the basis of solid defence.
That was rewarded when from a scrum just outside the Crusaders 22m area quick ball saw second five-eighths George Moala time the perfect short pass to Saili running from depth to punch through the line and race across for a 31st minute try.
Codie Taylor looked to have created a chance off a short pass from Slade but Brendon O'Connor got back to make the tackle and win the turnover which allowed the Blues to clear the line, although subsequently a penalty was conceded which saw Slade land a goal just before the break.
A strong run by fullback Lolagi Visinia down the left flank, created good ball which the Blues moved right and well-timed passes from Saili and Moala found O'Connor in support and he scored.
A feature of the Blues effort was the impressive starting debut made by flanker Akira Ioane who demonstrated his potential with a strong game in the loose.
Scorers: Crusaders 29 (Mitchell Drummond, Jordan Taufua, Tom Taylor, Codie Taylor tries; Colin Slade 3 con, pen) Blues 15 (George Moala, Brendon O'Connor tries; Dan Bowden con, pen). HT: 10-17