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Dublin: 15 °C Monday 10 August, 2020
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Powerful finish from fired-up Crusaders too much for Blues

The Blues saw a chance to rewrite history slip away.

The Crusaders ran out 26-15 winners.
The Crusaders ran out 26-15 winners.

THE CANTERBURY CRUSADERS, stung by what they felt was a dubious refereeing decision, stormed back to beat the Auckland Blues 26-15 and maintain a phenomenal home record in Christchurch on Saturday.

Victory in the intensely physical top-of-the-table clash in New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, left the Crusaders the only unbeaten team.

The Crusaders are now undefeated in their last 36 games at their home fortress where the Blues have not won since 2004.

The Blues saw a chance to rewrite history when they won a scrum penalty 15 minutes into the second half and took a quick tap which produced a try to Rieko Ioane, extending their lead to 15-9.

The referee rejected the Crusaders argument that they should have had the penalty because they had the superior scrum and the Blues were going backwards.

Incensed, the Crusaders charged down Otere Black’s conversion — a rarity in Super Rugby — then cranked up the tempo to a pace the Blues could not stay with to retake control with a storming final quarter with two tries and a penalty.

“We saw it as a Test match,” said Crusaders captain and All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor, while adding that even when they were behind on the scoreboard they remained confident.

“That was hard fought. They were on top for most of the game, really, but we knew if we came out in the second half and won those little moments we would get the job done.”

Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu said they could not keep up in the final quarter.

“We seemed to be in it for three quarters then they applied pressure and kept us in our half”.

As for the disputed penalty, Tuipolotu admitted the Crusaders were “probably the best set-piece team and it showed the way they put pressure on us”.

The Blues, on a seven-match winning streak, their best unbeaten run since they won 12 in succession in 1997, rattled the Crusaders at the start and were immediately on the front foot with a Mark Talea turnover.

Ten minutes into the game, they put first points on the board when a long cut-pass from Otere Black saw Talea score in the corner.

The Crusaders were not short of possession but an impenetrable Blues defence coupled with their own errors saw the Blues winning psychological battles.

It took almost half an hour before the defending champions moved the scoreboard with two quick penalties by Richie Mo’unga.

At half-time the Blues led 7-6 but were on the wrong side of the penalty count 8-3.

Black and Mo’unga traded penalties early in the second half before Ioane’s try gave the Blues a six-point lead.

But when it came to the final quarter, the fired-up Crusaders proved untouchable.

They produced converted tries to Mitchell Drummond and Will Jordan, plus another penalty from Mo’unga while keeping the Blues scoreless.

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Meanwhile, Western Force were handed a rude awakening to the top-flight Saturday with NSW Waratahs scoring 23 unanswered points to overwhelm them in their first game of Super Rugby in nearly three years.

The Perth club were 14-0 ahead and more than holding their own before a Michael Hooper-inspired ‘Tahs stepped up a gear in the second half to win 23-14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Angus Bell and Tom Staniforth bagged tries and Will Harrison kicked five goals to earn the home team their first win in Super Rugby AU after a six-point loss to the Queensland Reds in the opening round last week.

It was a welcome boost for Rob Simmons’ side, who had only won one of their previous eight.

And it was payback for the last time the two teams met, when they were hammered 40-11 in what was Force’s final Super Rugby outing before being controversially axed by governing body SANZAAR at the end of the 2017 season.

“It sure is (a good feeling), a lot of hard work went into that one and it’s good to get the result,” said Simmons, who is in charge of a youthful team after the departure of Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, and Adam Ashley-Cooper.

“They’re so enthusiastic,” he added of the young guns. “They just want to play footy and it’s just about controlling those big moments.”

Force, who were playing the Asia-Pacific Global Rapid Rugby tournament before the coronavirus pandemic handed them a lifeline in Super Rugby AU, were impressive in the first 40 minutes before being overrun.

“We were good in patches there and obviously the first game so we will build through that next week,” said skipper Ian Prior.

“I think we were up to the pace … we were up there physicality-wise and conditioning-wise, it was just that little bit of ill-discipline probably let us down.”

They started with an attacking mindset and secured the first points, with Prior cleanly booting a penalty to set them on their way.

The ‘Tahs were under constant pressure with Force scoring a deserved first try on 28 minutes with young winger Byron Ralston dotting down on his debut after taking Henry Stowers’ pass.

Prior missed the conversion but made amends minutes later by landing two penalties in quick succession to stretch their lead to 14-0.

But that was as good as it got as the rattled ‘Tahs woke up with Hooper in the thick of the action.

They finally earned a try when big prop Bell crashed over after a well-worked driving maul on the half-time whistle.

It boosted their confidence and they returned with better energy, putting together a 17-phase move that led to a penalty which Harrison converted.

Another Harrison kick hauled the score back to 14-13 and with all the momentum they took the lead for the first time soon after courtesy of Staniforth dotting down.

Harrison’s conversion and a late penalty kick made sure of the win.

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