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Blues player ratings vs Crusaders | Super Rugby Pacific Final

By Tom Vinicombe
Hoskins Sotutu. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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The Blues entered Saturday night’s Super Rugby Pacific final as narrow favourites over the Crusaders, with home ground advantage expected to bouy the home team on in their full-scale Super Rugby final since 2003.

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On a drizzly evening, however, it was the Crusaders who dominated proceedings, dominating both possession and territory in the first half to build a 13-0 lead at the break – the first time the Blues had been held scoreless in the first half of a match since 2015.

With a wet ball and a slippery turf, it was always going to be a big challenge for the Blues to fight their way back into the match and despite a better showing in the second spell, they just couldn’t quite do enough to slow the tide, with the Crusaders eventually triumphing 21-7.

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Reacting to the first All Blacks squad of the season.
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Reacting to the first All Blacks squad of the season.

Who were the Blues’ best performers in the defeat?

1. Alex Hodgman – 6
Seemed to have the better of Oli Jager at scrum time, but that rarely translated into much dominance. Penalised once for infringing at a lineout. Wasn’t able to get his carrying game going. Off in 54th minute.

2. Kurt Eklund – 4
Lineouts were a shambles all night for the Blues after being such a strength of the team throughout the season, with Eklund hitting his target less than 50 per cent of the time. The Blues hooker did get stuck in on defence but he probably would not have had to put in quite so many hits if he’d been able to find his targets at the set-piece. Off in 54th minute.

3. Nepo Laulala – 5.5
Similar to Hodgman, had the better of his opposite but wasn’t dominant. Played the ball on the ground after it was knocked on by Josh Goodhue, turning a scrum into a penalty. Was lucky to escape a card (or even a penalty) for a no-arms tackle early in the first half. Off in 54th minute.

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4. Josh Goodhue – 4
Hasn’t looked anywhere near his early-season form after returning from injury in recent weeks. Needed to stand up as the senior lineout operator but wasn’t able to help his side’s cause. Off in 45th minute.

5. Tom Robinson – 5
Every man and his dog in a Blues jersey has been calling for Tom Robinson to get a call-up to the national squad but tonight’s match probably showed why he’s not a test-level option in the second row and was beaten at lineout time by Sam Whitelock on more than one occasion.

6. Akira Ioane – 5.5
One of the quietest matches we’ve seen from Ioane in recent seasons. Didn’t stray too far from the wide channels in the first half but the ball rarely came his way, effectively leaving the Blues to play with one fewer forward than their opposition. Seemed to shift closer to the action in the second spell and naturally came more into the match once he got some ball in hand – but needs to add more to a game when his team are without possession.

 

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7. Adrian Choat – 4.5
Traded blows with Pablo Matera early doors and got stuck in on defence in the early stages of the game but wasn’t able to add much impact at the breakdown. Outplayed by his opposte. Off in 45th minute.

8. Hoskins Sotutu – 7.5
One of the Blues’ best – busy on both attack and defence, accumulating almost 30 tackles. Secured ample metres from the back of the scrum. Relieved a huge amount of his pressure on his teammates when he secured a breakdown penalty following one of many bobbled lineouts. Threw his first dud pass of the season, which Stephen Perofeta understandably knocked in pretty trying conditions. Temporarily left the field at halftime but returned after a few minutes.

9. Finlay Christie – 6.5
Was inaccurate from the base of the ruck but made two massive plays for his side. First, did incredibly well to prevent Leicester Fainga’anuku from getting the ball down for a try late in the first quarter, and then created and scored the Blues’ first try of the night with some brilliant work at the back of a Crusaders scrum, disrupting Cullen Grace, pouncing on the loose ball and fighting his way over the line for the score. Off in 72nd minute.

10. Beauden Barrett – 5.5
Came out second best in the battle of the All Blacks first fives. Kicking game was fine but wasn’t able to play to his strengths thanks to a dearth of possession. Did combine well with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rieko Ioane to create the Blues’ first real scoring chance, crisscrossing from a scrum to set up a five-metre lineout, but it ultimately came to naught.

11. Mark Telea – 5
Kept Fainga’anuku relatively well contained in the wider channels – although he couldn’t always stop the new All Black from getting the offload away – but was conversely kept quiet on attack. Off in 78th minute.

12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – 5
A nice shimmy down the left-hand side created space for his teammates and set the Blues away on their first counter-attack after the Crusaders had been looking likely. As with his teammates, struggled to find time on the ball thanks to the Crusaders’ rush defence. Off in 45th minute.

13. Rieko Ioane – 4
Bumped off by his All Blacks teammate and was pinged once for getting offside on defence – that was effectively the extent of his contribution in the first half, bar one pass in a nice Blues breakout. Wasn’t able to add much more in the second spell.

14. AJ Lam – 4
Struggled to get the ball in any space and was well wrapped up in the narrow channels. Had a bit more luck after halftime but still had negligible impact. The action just didn’t really flow his way.

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15. Stephen Perofeta – 5.5
Offered little in the way of an obstacle when Codie Taylor was barreling to the line – thankfully supporting Blues tacklers were able to usher Taylor over the sideline. Started to find his form late in the game – even added some weight to a few crucial breakdowns.

Reserves:

16. Soane Vikena – 6.5
On in 54th minute. Didn’t have much more luck than the man he replaced with his lineout deliveries but was dominant with the ball in hand and helped galvanise the Blues during their strongest period of the evening.

17. Karl Tu’inukuafe – 5
On in 54th minute. Initially exerted plenty of dominance at the scrum as soon as he joined the fray but somehow it was the Crusaders that won the first penalty, with one massive effort in the 65th minute.

18. Ofa Tuungafasi – 4.5
On in 54th minute. Made some good carries with his first touches of the ball. A clanking error at the breakdown – lifting the ball then releasing it for the Crusaders to take possession – with just five minutes left on the clock quickly led to the Crusaders’ match-sealing try.

19. Luke Romano – 6
On in 45th minute. Added some more starch to the Blues pack and threw himself into every carry, tackle and breakdown.

20. Dalton Papalii – 6.5
On at half time as a temporary replacement for Sotutu then returned to the bench for a play or two before rejoining the fray in place of Choat. Made one brilliant run down the right-hand side.

21. Sam Nock – N/A
On in 72nd minute. Couldn’t get his hands on the ball after a Crusaders’ kick-through and Sevu Reece pounced.

22. Bryce Heem – 5.5
On in 45th minute. Took an ‘up the guts’ approach but was generally well contained. Perhaps the better starting option than Tuivasa-Sheck.

23. Zarn Sullivan – N/A
On in 78th minute.

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