We predicted a possible upset and were spot on. Last weekend’s bye did the Saders no favours as they were comprehensively outplayed by the Blues in Auckland.
First 20: 7.25/10
Tactical kicking and edgy attacking at a moderate pace set the opening tone for this Kiwi derby. In the 3rd minute the Blues chose to run the ball in their own territory only to be penalized at the breakdown for holding on. Against a defence of the likes of the Crusaders, running from within your own 40 meter probably is not sensible. Dan Carter stepped up. 0 – 3. Immediately from the returning kickoff Samuel Whitelock was penalized for falling over the ball at the ruck. Piri Weepu took aim, unfortunately hit the upright and the Crusaders then cleared the ball into touch.
Minutes later after having the lion’s share of possession on attack, Steven Luatua clinically finished off an overlap to score the first try of the match. Again Weepu missed the available points. 5 – 3. In the opening quarter the ‘Saders showed little intent to run with the ball playing a very passive style of rugby. In the 16th minute Luke Romano went off due to a rib injury. The Blues had the best of it at the breakdown in the first quarter and the Saders were lucky not to be punished by several counter-attacking plays from the Blues.
Second 20: 7.5/10
A superb tackle by Kieran Read on Charles Piutau as the Blues again chose to run from deep within their own half gave the Saders a shot at goal completely against the run of play. 5 – 6 Saders back in front with their only points earned from poor judgment as the Blues again chose to run from deep. The Blues were then immediately awarded another shot at goal off the following restart as Owen Franks held the ball on the ground. 3rd time lucky for Weepu, 8 – 6. Again it must be stated that the Blues were very dominant at the breakdown in the first half.
Minutes later Luke Braid made a clean line break to off-load to Rene Ranger which was finished off 4 phases later by Frank Halai in the most exciting passage of play of the first half. Weepu squandered another shot at goal, 7 points at goal now wasted. The score 13 – 6. After a kick and chase by the Blues, the Crusaders scurrying on defence were penalized for handling the ball on the ground. Weepu turned down the shot at goal to go for a lineout and several phases later Frank Halai touched down by gathering a speculative yet excellent chip from Chris Noakes mid-air. Weepu made no mistake of his 5th attempt, 20 – 6, Weepu 2 from 5.
Incredibly, the trend of penalty infringements from the kickoff continued, this time a Blues player being pinged for not releasing. Dan Carter and 20 – 9. A minute before half-time the Saders fought back (after their first passage taking the ball through 5 phases in the match!) to play themselves into the Blues 22 and won a penalty for off-sides. Dan Carter and 20 – 12.
In summary of the first half the Blues were dominant in all aspects of play and were it not for foolishly running from deep within their own territory, and for some poor goal-kicking by Weepu, the half time score could have been as brutal as 6 – 27!
Third 20: 7.5/10
From the get-go in the second half the Saders upped their intensity and urgency to win a shot at goal as the Blues’ desperate defence on their try-line was found to be offsides. Dan Carter and 20 – 15.
Three minutes later the Blues fought back to win a penalty on the halfway line as they out-scrummed the Saders. Weepu went for the corner but the lineout throw was inaccurate. The Blues however continued their dominance from the first half and relentlessly attacked for the following 10 minutes to eventually be awarded with another easy shot at goal as the Saders did not release in the tackle. Weepu again missed the attempt. 10 points at goal now missed by his boot.
The Blues were not deterred and keep the pressure on through excellent offloading and passing to stretch the Saders this way and that before Luke Braid finished off for a bonus-point try from one meter running from the base of a ruck. Chris Noakes made no mistake getting the kick over off the uprights, 27 – 15.
Fourth 20: 7.5/10
The Crusaders began to find some rare possession going into the final quarter of the match. With great patience they worked the ball through several phases before losing it in a sloppy knock on. The subs rolled on in the 64th minute, one player replaced being Piri Weepu (by Bryn Hall). The Crusaders kept up the pressure now dominating the lineouts and camped in the Blues 22 with desperate defence holding the ball up over the line on 3 consecutive attacking plays. One of the standout Saders players to this point, Kieran Read.
In the 72nd minute of the game came the most controversial decision of the match. Israel Dagg was penalised by the TMO for a double movement as he put the ball down over the line. Replays clearly showed that Dagg was released by the tackler and had full rights to play on with the ball. From that penalty the Blues worked the ball up the full length of the field for George Moala to score as he blitzed down the touchline. Baden Kerr slotted his first attempt at goal, 34 – 15. The Crusaders having dominated the final quarter of the match now found themselves well out of contention.