The heavyweight contenders for the Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 title went toe-to-toe with each other this afternoon at Eden Park with the hosts eager to display their championship bona fides. Whilst ‘the belt’ wasn’t on-the-line today, old fashioned bragging rights and psychological momentum were.
Both sides were laden with All Blacks, particularly the hosts who had named four All Black props in their matchday lineup, and that was a clear indication that Leon MacDonald was looking to take on his old side at the set-piece and through the middle of the park. For the Crusaders, Scott Robertson welcomed back Irishman Ollie Jager to the bench and that is where impressive newcomer Dallas MacLeod also started from.
They went into the sheds with the Crusaders holding a 17-8 lead after an enthralling first half. It was all Blues early on yet as great sides do the Crusaders scored on the back of some intelligent play by former Blue, Bryn Hall, stabbing one in behind the defensive line and Jack Goodhue winning the race to ground the ball.
The second half was everything all fans hoped it would be; it was intense, it was skilful and it was two magnificent sides trading blows, but it was the Crusaders who knew how to control the key moments and subsequently won the day 43-27.
This is how RugbyPass rated the Crusaders.
1. Joe Moody – 7/10
Didn’t have it all his own way, Nepo Laulala really made it tough going however as all champions do, they find a way and ‘Big Joe’ did that for his side in the set-piece today and also contributed with some hard work off the ball in the tight. Quality shift.
2. Codie Taylor – 8
Was in everything as usual but as class players do, they turn up when their teams need it the most. Taylor today was either scoring tries, winning turnovers or making covering tackles on outside backs. In between these moments, he was working tough in the dark spaces and places. A complete performance today.
3. Michael Alaalatoa – 7
‘Big Mike’ had his own battles with Alex Hodgeman and was well under the eye of referee Paul Williams, but to his credit, he found a way to nullify his opponent and wrest back momentum in the set piece for his side. Well played.
4. Scott Barrett – 8
Wonderful performance by the skipper both in leadership and in his own play. Akin to Taylor he had his big moments be it a covering tackle, or winning a turnover to stifle the Blues attack. His choice to take kickable points ensured that the Blues spent most of the game chasing the game and that decision making turned out to be right.
5. Samuel Whitelock – 8
Doesn’t know how to put in a poor shift. His ability to disrupt the Blues lineout was his victory today. This coupled with an inexhaustible work ethic around the park consolidated a terrific performance.
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6. Ethan Blackadder – 8
In All Black squad form. Hit hard, ran hard, worked hard. Is there anything you want from a 6? Topped with tackle count with 17, missed a few but even at 13 completions, he made a statement today.
7. Sione Havili Talitui – 7
Tough gig wearing that 7 jersey for the Crusaders but he wore it well and what was pleasing is his defence and ability to slow down play off it. He is strong in all aspects of contact but dropped off a few tackles today.
8. Cullen Grace – 7.5
Got a nasty head knock early but in typical fashion, he just got on with it. You could ask yourself what did Cullen Grace actually do today? Watch the match again and look at all the work he does off the ball and you’ll find your answer. Quality.
9. Bryn Hall – 7.5
Set up the Crusaders first try with a wonderful display of both vision and skill but identifying space behind the Blues, and having the skill to stab one in behind them allowing Jack Goodhue to score. Was guilty of letting the pressure a short time later with a misread at a clearance ruck but all-in-all, a good day out for him.
10. Richie Mo’unga – 8.5
Took the game by the scruff of the neck and owned it. Be it try-saving tackles, cleanouts, identifying space or scoring himself he was a big point-of-difference player for the Crusaders today. Superb.
11. Leicester Fainga’anuku – 7.5
Had his errors but never stopped looking to amend for them. Despite some poor handling, he was still an absolute threat most of the time and even pinched a turnover.
12. David Havili – 7.5
I thought his best game this season. His combination with Will Jordan opened up the Blues but it was his want to work hard off the ball, especially at the breakdown ensured momentum at crucial times. Well played that man.
13. Jack Goodhue – 8
Best game of the season for him, a try, 15 tackles and turnover – he was an absolute handful for Reiko Ioane today and probably reminded him the All Black 13 jersey is very much up for grabs.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 21, 2021
14. Sevu Reece – 7.5
Another very strong performance by him. Was superb in attack and strong in defence. Never went missing in a very physical affair.
15. Will Jordan – 6.5
Really starting to look back his best with some visionary attacking play. Injecting himself at the right times. Wasn’t always solid under the high ball but that’s not to say he was poor in defence. But if anything, defence was his issue today, missing 4 from 7 attempts.
16. Brodie McAlister – N/A
On at 72.
17. George Bower – 7
On at 60 and contributed nicely around the park and maintained the momentum against a very good Blues scrum.
18. Oliver Jager – 7
On at 68. Like Bower, contributed well and made a wonderful cover tackle after tracking hard on the inside.
19. Mitchell Dunshea – 6
Didn’t see much of him but got stuck in.
20. Whetukamokamo Douglas – N/A
On at 71.
21. Mitchell Drummond – 7
Just kept the momentum going off the platform laid by Bryn Hall. Good option taking, never overplayed his hand.
22. Fergus Burke – N/A
On at 74.
23. Dallas McLeod – N/A
On at 72.
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