After going undefeated in their first four matches of the competition, the Crusaders came a little bit unstuck over their past three, losing to the Highlanders and Chiefs and scoring a golden-point win over the Hurricanes.

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The shackles came off against the Blues on Sunday afternoon, however, with the Crusaders racking up a relatively comfortable 29-6 victory.

After a tight contest in the first half, the Crusaders really came to life in the second period. How did the Crusaders players perform in the game which confirmed their top seeding for the grand final?

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All Blacks Dane Coles, Sevu Reece, Shannon Frizell, and Scott Barrett share their favourite drills, what other position they want to play and what their number one tip is for young rugby players. Brought to you by Healthspan Elite.

1. George Bower – 7
Wasn’t needed to carry too much on attack but was always a willing support runner. Huge in defence, making the most tackles of any front-rower in the game. Still obviously a step down from Joe Moody, but has done a solid job in his absence. Off in 67th minute.

2. Codie Taylor – 6.5
Not as impactful with ball in hand as he has been at times this season. From a driving maul, managed to score his seventh try in eight matches and currently tops the Super Rugby Aotearoa try-scoring charts. Snaffled an important turnover when the Blues were hot on attack in the 22 then would have likely scored moments later if he’d been able to hold onto a pass from Sevu Reece. Nailed his lineout deliveries. Copped three weak penalties for getting in the way at breakdowns. Off in 63rd minute.

3. Michael Alaalatoa – 6
Didn’t have the happiest of times in the set-piece. Absolutely done by Karl Tu’inukuafe in the Blues’ first two scrum feeds of the match but did earn one back early in the second half. Off in 63rd minute.

4. Scott Barrett – 7.5
Immense on defence, making 15 tackles. Led from the front as all good captains do. One lineout steal to his name.

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5. Samuel Whitelock – 7.5
Showed some nice touches with ball in hand and caused plenty of problems at the breakdown. The Crusaders’ young locks are promising but Whitelock’s re-introduction this week made a big difference for the Crusaders.

6. Ethan Blackadder – 8
The Crusaders’ primary ball-carrier in the forwards, churned through plenty of metres for the home side. Heavily involved on defence, putting in some bone-crunching hits. Continues to show just how good he can be with an extended run of games. Off in 68th minute.

7. Sione Havili Talitui – 8
Exceptional at the breakdown and ruthless on defence – sometimes even when the opposition didn’t have the ball. Silly off-the-ball hit on Tanielu Tele’a almost cost his side 3 points. Off in 60th minute.

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8. Cullen Grace – 7
Earlier this week, Scott Robertson said he wanted to see more from Cullen Grace. He won’t yet have answered that call to action. While he was by no means blown off the park, Grace was overshadowed by the other loosies on both teams.

9. Mitchell Drummond – 7
Quietly went about his business, allowing the Crusaders machine to keep churning. Doesn’t necessarily offer too much on attack, but could never be criticised for overplaying his hand as some halfbacks are want to do. Off in 60th minute.

10. Richie Mo’unga – 8
Controlled the game from No 10 – he just seems to love showing off his attacking prowess when up against the Blues. Made plenty of breaks on attack but didn’t always have the support he needed – or couldn’t find them. Goal kicking wasn’t always on the money, which could prove costly in a more competitive match.

11. George Bridge – 6.5
A quiet game for the returning All Black – still obviously not quite back to his best and didn’t always seem certain of when to get involved. Notched up over 40 run-metres and always put pressure on high balls. Off in 68th minute.

12. David Havili – 7.5
Threw a nice short ball for Will Jordan to run onto for the Crusaders’ first try, then mixed things up with a lengthy skip-pass out to Sevu Reece for the Crusaders’ second. Has exceptional distribution skills for a makeshift midfielder and has proved an excellent option there for the Crusaders. Also made a number of important, well-placed kicks. Arguably the form No 12 in the country.

13. Leicester Fainga’anuku – 7
Doesn’t have the top end pace of some of his teammates but makes up for it with his awesome strength, almost always requiring two or three tacklers to bring him to ground. Must be one of the best backs in the world at earning post-contact metres. Shut down Rieko Ioane by regularly rushing up on the Blues midfielder but almost cost his team a try after shooting out of the line and missing Hoskins Sotutu. Off in 67th minute.

14. Sevu Reece – 7
Great work in the first play of the game to steal the ball from Blues lock Dam Sam Darry. Wasn’t really sighted again for the next 20 minutes until he almost set up Codie Taylor for a try, but was touching down for one of his own just moments later off the back of a red zone scrum. Importantly managed to intercept a Blues pass to shut down their attack not far out from the Crusaders tryline. Popped up all over the park and his breakdown work gave the Crusaders the ball they needed to score their final try of the game.

15. Will Jordan – 8
Lovely swerving and stepping to beat five defenders and score his side’s opening try of the game. Turned attacker to defender shortly thereafter, somehow managing to prevent Hoskins Sotutu from scoring what looked like a sure try. Showcased his great pace for his side’s final try. Hasn’t looked quite as sharp this year compared to the last but was back to his best this afternoon.

Reserves:

16. Brodie McAlister – N/A
On in 63rd minute.

17. Tamaiti Williams – N/A
On for his debut in 67th minute.

18. Oli Jager – N/A
On in 63rd minute.

19. Mitchell Dunshea – N/A
On in 68th minute.

20. Tom Sanders – 7
On in 60th minute. Industrious on defence.

21. Bryn Hall – 7
On in 60th minute. Kept up Drummond’s solid delivery.

22. Dallas McLeod – N/A
On in 67th minute.

23. Manasa Mataele – N/A
On in 68th minute. Force one penalty when the Blues were looking likely.

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