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Blues blitzkrieg smashes Crusaders

Fri, 28 Feb 2014 08:24
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Four tries seal the deal

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The Blues came back from 14 points down to smash the Crusaders 35-24 in their Super Rugby derby match at Eden Park, Auckland, on Friday.

It was a 29-point blitz in 14 minutes that killed off the Crusaders - two tries each side of the half-time break taking the game away from the visitors.

It was structure versus free-running and in the end the Blues' expansive game won the day.

The Blues were comical in the errors they made, especially at line-out time, in the first half-our - complicated moves that involved a player dropping to his knees and a short throw at the front of the line-out after plenty of movement elsewhere - the Crusaders getting the ball back every time.

It also didn't help that the home team was heavily penalised at scrum time.

The big contrast in the first half-hour was how clinical the Crusaders looked, with classic passing exposing the home team, while the Blues' game was marked by the litany of errors.

That changed dramatically in the last 10 minutes of the opening half - the Blues speeding up the game, avoiding set line-outs and scoring two sublime tries just before the break - with the Crusaders now making the errors and falling off the tackles.

And that confidence flowed into the second half, with the Blues still running hard and finding gaps, while the Crusaders' error-count starting to mount.

In fact the Blues looked like a slick, smooth-running engine - the Crusaders giving the appearance of an old diesel engine struggling to get going on a cold winter's morning.

The Blues did not even need the services of their high-profile Rugby League recruit Benji Marshall - with their regular backline players doing all the damage.

The first real scoring opportunity came after 12 minutes, but Crusaders flyhalf Tom Taylor was well short with a penalty shot from about 40 metres out.

It did not matter much, as hooker Corey Flynn score a try a few minutes later after sprinting 40 metres down the left touchline. In the build-up, starting from a turnover, there were some great hands, none moire so that Kieran Read, who gave the scoring pass. This time Taylor was on target - 7-0.

While rookie flyhalf Simon Hickey pulled three points back for the Blues right at the end of the first quarter, a silly penalty from the restart allowed Taylor to make it a seven-point (10-3) game again.

That became 17-3 just on the half-hour mark - a great set-piece try, Kieran Read from a scrum, to Andy Ellis, who put Colin Slade into a huge hole and he strolled over unopposed.

However, a 14-point blitzkrieg - two tries in two minutes - levelled the score at 17-all.

The first try for the Blues came after a patient build-up - Peter Saili beating the tackle of Richie McCaw and released a superb off-load to the flying Frank Halai. He sidestepped the cross-covering Colin Slade and went over under the sticks.

From the kick-off the Blues scored again - lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who went down with a knee injury earlier in the half -  caught the kick-off, off-loaded to Tevita Li and the young flyer set off at tremendous pace. He beat the tackles of Slade, McCaw and Tuitavake on his way to the tryline.

It took the Blues just seven minutes into the second half to get their bonus point for four tries.

Taylor, whose game epitomised the Crusaders' miserable collapse into ignominy, knocked on a high ball. Hickey stabbed a kick through and George Moala chased it up, gathered and scored the try. There was a bad mix up between Reynold Lee-Lo and Slade at the back that allowed Moala to score.

Minutes later Weepu, from a scrum, executed a deft grubber for Jackson Willison to run onto and he scored under the poles - the bonus-point for four tries achieved in the 47th minute.

A Hickey penalty made the score 32-17 after 56 minutes.

The Crusaders were given a lifeline when, with 14 minutes to go, flank Steven Luatua was sent to the sin bin for repeated infringements at the breakdown.

And, with just on seven minutes to go the Crusaders worked their way over the line from a scrum - Tom Taylor giving the scoring pass to Ryan Crotty. The conversion made it 24-32 - giving the visitors some hope.

However,  the final score went to the Blues - Hickey slotting a third penalty to deny the Crusaders even a bonus pint, making the score 35-24.

Man of the match: Corey Flynn had some wonderful run on the wing, including scoring a 40-metre try. Kieran Read, who did his usual damage on defence, carried well and even managed to poach a few balls. Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, George Moala, Jackson Willison and Tevita Li displayed the Blues' potent attacking skills. Rookie flyhalf Simon Hickey looked comfortable on the Super Rugby stage and there were any number of players on the Blues side putting up their hands. However, our award goes to veteran lock Tom Donnelly, who showed the way for the rest of the Blues forwards - with tackles, carries, passes and even a tactical kick.

The scorers:

For the Blues:
Tries:
Halai, Li, Moala, Willison
Cons: Hickey 3
Pens: Hickey 3

For the Crusaders:
Tries:
Flynn, Slade, Crotty
Cons: Taylor 3
Pen: Taylor

Yellow card: Steven Luatua (Blues, 66 - repeated infringements at the breakdown)

Teams:

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Brendan O'Connor/Jordan Manihera, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Benji Marshall, 23 Pita Ahki.

Crusaders: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Rob Thompson, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Adam Whitelock, 23 Israel Dagg.
 
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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