It was very much a Godzilla vs Kong battle at Eden Park on Sunday afternoon as the two unbeaten teams in Super Rugby Aotearoa collided in a top of the table clash.
The Blues saw Josh Goodhue, Alex Hodgman, Blake Gibson and Bryce Heem come fresh into the matchday XV for a variety of reasons. The Crusaders, meanwhile, made an adjustment in the loose trio as Tom Christie was unfit and Ethan Blackadder and Cullen Grace returned. Halfback Bryn Hall hit the 100 Super rugby match mark.
The Blues started well with a surfeit of possession and territory but the Crusaders survived on limited rations, converted every time they got within touch of the Blues line and then flourished just before halftime with a 17-8 lead. In the second half, the Crusaders camped in the Blues territory and strangled the Blues like a red and black python and even though the Blues showed sparks of potential, they couldn’t light the fire.
Here’s how the Blues rated in the loss:
1. Alex Hodgman – 6.5
Good comeback from injury and showed he’s All Black class at scrum time and around the field. Good ball in 3rd minute to his big buddy Laulala in open play. Seemed to get an early edge v Alaalatoa but couldn’t nail the advantage. Off at 60.
2. Luteru Tolai – 5
Toiled manfully but when you’re up against the player of the tournament so far it’s hard to make a mark. Awful start to the second half as he slipped off Blackadder to set up a Crusader attack and penalty to give 20-8 lead. Off shortly after.
3. Nepo Laulala – 6.5
The Blues scrum was a real weapon in the first 30 but then the Crusaders neutralised it. It was around that time when the tighthead drove into the Crusaders jumper at line out time, conceding the penalty that led to the Codie Taylor try. Off at 45.
4. Patrick Tuipulotu – 6.5
Top metre eater for a forward and rampaged from the front. Penalised for a high tackle in the 25th minute. Not really a lineout option but got a handy steal at 37 minutes.
5. Josh Goodhue – 6
Hit Eden Park humming and busy throughout his stay. A great stanza for him at the 35th minute with a lineout take then seconds later a bullocking carry. Off at 58.
6. Akira Ioane – 6
Had some bright moments but didn’t have the game he needed to to beat the champions and was arguably outplayed by his opposite. Got beaten to the ball by Jack Goodhue for the Crusaders first try. Smart thinking moments later got a nifty steal at the back of the ruck to start an attack and had some good moments with the ball in hand in general. A little bit of indiscipline; penalised for lying on ball in the 26th minute and gave away another at 60 before being subbed.
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7. Blake Gibson – 5
Must be the unluckiest Super player with injuries. Finished well in the 20th minute for Blues first try, a lineout win at 22 minutes and off at halftime.
8. Hoskins Sotutu – 6.5
Started the game taking the ball up and was key in the lineout, with four takes. Great turnover in the 22nd minute on Fainga’anuku for the penalty. In the 72nd minute showed pace to whip down the right wing for a try.
9. Jonathan Ruru – 5.5
For all the scrum dominance and lineout ball the backline never got good service in large parts of the game. Off at 56.
10. Otere Black – 5.5
He struggled with untidy ball from line outs and wasn’t able to dictate terms as he has been. Off at 68.
11.Caleb Clarke – 5.5
Showed his strength more than once. Hasn’t been able to surprise teams this year and will have to develop some new tricks if he wants to constantly improve.
12. Harry Plummer – 6.5
He has been really impressive with a physical edge in the last two weeks and matched up well against the in-form David Havili. A couple of moments where he came up trumps in contact against Sione Havili Talitui and Sam Whitelock shows he’s more than just a distributor.
13. Rieko Ioane – 6.5
Top yards in the match but couldn’t carry his team to a win. No one seemed to notice that Sevu Reece did the Rieko pose with the last Crusaders try to put it beyond doubt; that would have rubbed the salt in the centre’s wounds.
14. Bryce Heem – 6
Looked likely in the first quarter with a couple of good canters although denied a try by a killer Mo’unga tackle. Got himself involved for the 80 and added some good linking play on attack.
15. Stephen Perofeta – 6
Little knock-on in 3rd minute with a difficult ball. Really got involved late in the game after Black went off and looked good with a more prominent workload.
The Crusaders have emerged unscathed from their four matches to date – who was the "big point-of-difference" for the victorious side in today's clash with the Blues? #SuperRugbyAotearoa #BLUvCRUhttps://t.co/cCXdrXLNAX
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 21, 2021
16. Kurt Eklund – 6.5
On at 45 and for a second week in the row got a try with his first touch. Then got his second with clever placement at 66. Couple of black marks; free kicked with a lineout baulk at 61 and saw some red mist with some WWE moves after Reece jumped on his head and then took Tuipulotu out. Then bamboozled by Mo’unga’s footwork to give up the try in the 68th minute.
17. Karl Tu’inukuafe – 5.5
On 60. A couple of steamrolling runs and played a part in the Blues resurgence.
18. Ofa Tuungafasi – 5
On at 45. Two big carries leading up to Eklund’s second try. Absolutely smashed Scott Barrett in the ruck and was yellow carded, such a dangerous area now for accidental contact.
19. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti – 6.5
On 58. Good physicality in lead up to Eklund’s second try and waded through the defensive line with ball in hand more than once.
20. Tom Robinson – 7
On at 60. He may end up a victim of his own success of the bench as he is so effective at it; he lifted his team superbly, the highlights were the set up to Sotutu’s touchdown with a magical offload and a lineout steal in the 76th.
21. Adrian Choat – 6.5
On at halftime. Annoying defensive player and busy with ball in hand. Won’t want to see the replay of the lineout ball off his head when he was playing at halfback.
22. Finally Christie – 6
On at 56. He is class and looking forward to seeing more of him in a blue jersey.
23. TJ Faiane – 5.5
On at 68. Ran his nice straight lines that seemed to make the Blues attack more direct.
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