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Crusaders keep playoff hopes alive with stunning win over Blues

By Finn Morton
Noah Hotham of the Crusaders. Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

The Crusaders have kept their hopes of playing in the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs alive with an incredible 29-27 win over Kiwi rivals the Blues at Christchurch’s Apollo Projects Stadium.

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With the eighth-placed Fijian Drua sitting six points above the defending champions on the ladder, the Crusaders needed to win to at least have a chance to crack the top eight.

They hadn’t won since a 39-ni win over the Melbourne Rebels on April 26, but Noah Hotham and Chay Fihaki was among the standouts as the Christchurch side kept their season alive.

With a cheer from the Christchurch crowd, Crusaders first five Fergus Burke got the blockbuster Kiwi derby on time, and it was the hosts who had the first opportunity to strike soon after.

Burke, who was playing in just his second Super Rugby Pacific match this season after overcoming an injury, lined up what appeared to be a routine shot at goal in the third minute.

While the 24-year-old has been quite accurate off the boot in his career to date, which included a strong showing last time out against the Brumbies, Burke sent the shot wide of the posts.

It was a let-off for the Blues and they looked to make the most of it. They marched down the other and started with front-foot ball and the confidence to match.

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The Crusaders’ discipline was a real issue early on, with the hosts receiving an official warning after a series of penalties inside their own 22. In the end, it led to a hard-fought Blues lead.

While the visitors had well and truly piled on the pressure, history shows that taking the points in Christchurch is the way to go. Playmaker Harry Plummer knocked over an early penalty.

But then the match changed.

The Crusaders won a scrum penalty five minutes later and it seemed as if the entire backline swarmed to celebrate. They made their way into the Blues’ 22 and eventually left with points.

All Blacks and Crusaders flanker Ethan Blackadder – who has battled a horror run of injuries once again this season – was all smiles after scoring the go-ahead five-pointer.

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But the Blues, to their credit, hit back immediately. Relentless phase play pressure saw the Aucklanders snatch the lead back as All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi crashed over for his first try.

But that was just one big moment to speak of as the New Zealand rivals looked to trade blows.

Match Summary

1
Penalty Goals
1
4
Tries
4
3
Conversions
2
0
Drop Goals
0
132
Carries
137
3
Line Breaks
4
10
Turnovers Lost
10
4
Turnovers Won
2

Crusaders winger Chay Fihaki lined up a long-range penalty, and while he had the distance, the direction was a bit off. Once again, it was a left-off for the Blues.

History repeats. Call it déjà vu if you’d like, but the Blues replicated their heroics from earlier.

After a missed Crusaders penalty, the Blues hit back almost immediately with that man Ofa Tu’ungafasi popping up to crash over for his second of the night.

Almost suddenly, they had a 10-point lead.

The hosts had one more attempt to give their fans something to smile about as the half-time hooter warmed up. They charged up the field in the 39th minute and were awarded a penalty.

Captain Codie Taylor, quite brilliantly, opted for a quick tap with the All Blacks hooker then found Fihaki out-wide. Fihaki stepped inside and didn’t have too many issues in scoring.

While Burke missed the conversion, an entertaining first half came to a close with the ladder-leading visitors only ahead 15-12.

There was real fight in the Crusaders’ spirit.

After the break, the Blues went down to 14 men with fullback Stephen Perofeta being shown a yellow card for a knock-on. But it didn’t slow them down as much as you may have thought.

The Blues stormed up the other field and, when inside the Crusaders’ 22, backrower Hoskins Sotutu threw a massive cutout pass to AJ Lam who crossed untouched.

Plummer added the extras from out-wide. With one man in the sin bin, they extended their lead to a hard-fought 22-12 margin.

But off the ensuing kick-off, the Crusaders won a penalty. The defending champions kicked for the corner and set up for a maul, and they were rewarded in the end.

Fergus Burke sent the ball across the field with a kick for Christian Lio-Willie. The backrower was comfortable under the ball; placing it down for an incredibly popular score in Christchurch.

19-22, but the Blues still had a man in the bin for another 46 seconds.

They didn’t concede again before Perofeta came back on, nor did they score, but the match was far from won. With just over 20 minutes to play, this was all set for an epic finale.

What happened next, well, it was reminiscent of the Crusaders of old.

Burke broke through the defensive line before finding Fihaki, and the winger threw an outrageous chest pass to find Noah Hotham who ran in untouched.

Apollo Projects Stadium went berserk.

26-22 in favour of the defending champs. 18 minutes and 15 seconds left.

The Crusaders added a Chay Fihaki penalty soon after to make it a seven-point game. Rugby fans in Christchurch, who have endured a hard season, dared to dream.

But the Blues weren’t done.

After making their way into the Crusaders’ 22 and forcing a couple of infringements, they spread the ball wide for AJ Lam to score.

Plummer had a chance to level the score but hooked the attempt wide left.

29-27 to the Crusaders with seven to play.

But the hosts camped inside the Blues’ half and happily watched the clock tick by. They did enough in the end to hang on.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

20 Comments
D
Dave 29 days ago

Awesome game start to finish, plumber doing a great job at number 10, so good to see Blackadder still walking at the end of the game, one of the best games Cody Taylor's had, and Fihaki certainly starting to shine. Opens up the competition to some interesting possibilities.

G
Graham 29 days ago

I was at this game. So delighted as a Crusaders fan. Noah Hotham at halfback and captain fantastic Codie Taylor inspirational. Ethan Blackadder, Cullen Grace, Lio -Willie a fantastic loose forward unit, with a mighty one in Tom Christie off the bench. A great battle between the Crusaders and Blues , a great rivalry.

B
Bull Shark 29 days ago

Amazing that a team can win 3/13 games in regular season and still have playoff hopes. What’s the point?

S
Scott 29 days ago

Cullen Grace is playing very well since his shift back to blindside flanker mid-season. He is a hard working, physical defender and ruck cleaner, very good lineout jumper, with not quite the dynamic ball carrying to be a 8.

He completely outplayed Akira Ioane at 6, who once again went missing when forced to play trench warfare.

J
Jacinda 30 days ago

Codie Taylor and Ethan Blackadder were outstanding. Great game

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Turlough 9 minutes ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

“You want that – not hatred – but whatever it is that stirs it all up. It’s good.” Agree with this. If you can put a common motivating idea in all your players heads during a game it can produce a real Team perfromance. Erasmus is pretty expert at this. It is quite clear that the comments by Etzebeth, Allende and others were not coincidence and were actioned to create animoisty before the series in order to galvanise the South African mind set. While I understand it, I don’t like it. They result in unnessary vitriol between supporters and for what? I don’t think any of the SA players seriously believe any of these claims and with Ireland ignoring them Erasmus won’t get the escalation he seeks. The vitriol shown by some SA and indeed NZ supporters is extremely weird for NH supporters (OK, maybe England have felt it) but it just feels very odd over a sport. Ireland were more or less sh1t for the first 100 years of their rugby, they have improved significantly in the last 25 to be in a position around now (it may not last) to go into a match with the big guns with a real shot of winning. The reaction to this from some SH supporters has been bizarre with conspiracy theories of ‘Arrogance’ fueling abuse from supporters and even NZ players to Irish crowds during the world cup. I love International rugby and the comraderie between supporters. I genuinely dread and dislike the atmosphere around games with the southern giants. They take this very personally. NH teams: play them, try and beat them, enjoy the craic with their players and supporters and wish them well. SH teams wish them well and they call you arrogant in the press months later. Its just a matter of try and beat them and then good riddance til the next time.

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