Crusaders are the comeback kings
REPORT: The third week in a row the Crusaders came from behind to win a thrilling Super Rugby match, as they edged the Blues 33-24 in Christchurch on Friday.
Trailing 5-21 at half-time and 5-24 with just a half-an-hour to go, the Crusaders scored four unanswered tries to overtake a very impressive Blues team.
They had similar comebacks against the Highlanders and Reds the previous two weeks.
"It'd be quite nice if we started before half-time," quipped captain Sam Whitelock, whose team also trailed by 21 points against the Reds and 17 against the Highlanders before charging home in both games.
The result displayed the Crusaders' depth, with the seven-time champions missing All Blacks Israel Dagg, Seta Tamanivalu and Matt Todd, as well as Wallaby Digby Ioane.
It means the Blues have not won away against a New Zealand rival since March 2013 and they have not won in Christchurch since 2004.
They now have just one win from four and are rooted at the bottom of the New Zealand conference.
It was poor reward for a committed first-half display after the Blues received a public tongue-lashing from coach Tana Umaga during the week about their insipid form.
Skipper Jamie Parsons praised his team's commitment but said they "didn't click in the second 40".
"It hurts, but the reality is we've got next week against the Bulls and we've got to bounce back," he said.
"The season's certainly not over. I know people are going to say that but in our camp we're very positive."
The signs looked ominous for the Blues when they fumbled the ball at the kick-off, but they went on to rattle the Crusaders with their attacking intent.
Eliminating the errors and poor discipline of previous weeks, they scored three first-half tries, two of them to hard-running centre George Moala.
Crusaders' debutant Manasa Mataele, called up to replace his injured uncle All Black Seta Tamanivalu, put the home side on the board but they trailed 21-5 at half-time.
The Crusaders made a flurry of substitutions after the break and improvements in the forwards saw Peter Samu and Ben Funnell score tries off driving mauls.
They hit the lead with seven minutes to go when Mitchell Hunt converted his own try, then Mitchell Drummond put it beyond doubt with another five-pointer in the last minute.
Man of the match: George Moala was everything that was good about the Blues, especially in the first half - when he found holes in the Crusaders' defence almost at will. Al Black Sam Whitelock was the rock in the Crusaders pack that got the upperhand in that gruelling second half. However, our award goes to Crusaders flyhalf Mitchell Hunt, who not only directed the show masterfully, but also scored the try that put his team ahead at a crucial stage.
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Mataele, Samu, Funnell, Hunt, Drummond
Cons: Hunt 4
For the Blues:
Tries: Moala 2, Pulu
Cons: Francis 3
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Jed Brown, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Sean Wainui.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Ihaia West, 23 TJ Faiane.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Mabey (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)