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Crusaders player ratings vs Blues | Super Rugby Pacific

By Ned Lester
Leicester Fainga'anuku scores for the Crusaders. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

The grand final rematch comes at an intriguing time for the Crusaders, having won just one match from three in 2023 and having suffered a physical loss at the hands of the Drua in Fiji last round.

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The reigning champions were under immense pressure from early in the game as the Blues came out with great intent and some creative attacking plays. A mix of strong defensive play and sloppy execution from the Blues relieved pressure in the opening passages but Mark Telea showed his class to open the scoring with a long-range run.

The two sides went back and forth throughout the first half, each responding to the other’s tries. A yellow card to the Blues’ reserve prop James Lay led to the Blues having to play with 13 men and the Crusaders capitalised instantly, going into the break with a lead of 24-21.

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The second half continued the battle with the two heavyweights going blow for blow. When either side managed to retain the ball and string some phases together, attacking opportunities ensued.

Ultimately the Crusaders took their opportunities and the Blues will rue some faulty execution on the try line.

It’s fair to say the Crusaders got the rub of the green on some calls and even Scott Barrett in his post-match interview admitted his side may have been lucky to come out with the win in such a close contest. Final score: 34-28.

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Here’s how the Crusaders rated:

1. Joe Moody – 8

It hasn’t been the smoothest return to the lineup for Moody who’s coming off an ACL rupture in 2022, but the scrummaging has been solid and the rest of his game is trending back up to the international level. Showed up around the park making some dynamic tackles. Was forced to come back onto the field after a yellow to his replacement making for a big shift from the 34-year-old.

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2. Codie Taylor – 6.5

A poorly executed first tackle gave the Blues an attacking opportunity in the opening minute. Went about his business in defence but was quiet on attack throughout. Made a blatantly cynical play at the ball in the ruck which should have seen him yellow carded but got away with it.

3. Tamaiti Williams – 7

Contributed some subtle touches early, one of which set up his side’s opening try. Williams’ scrummaging game has come along nicely and will continue to be tested with Fletcher Newell’s injury.

4. Scott Barrett – 7.5

A master in the lineout, spoiling the Blues’ rolling maul. Physicality in defence came into play late. Incurred a late penalty which gave the Blues their final attacking opportunity in the Crusaders’ 22.

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5. Sam Whitelock – 7.5

Disrupted an early Blues opportunity at a crucial moment and did the same in the closing minutes, possibly sealing the game for his team.

6. Ethan Blackadder – 9

An uncharacteristic early handling error didn’t dent Blackadder’s confidence in the slightest, his remarkable work rate persevered and he was rewarded with the Crusaders’ second try. It’s like there’s more than one of him on the field Blackadder is involved in so much play on both sides of the ball. A desperate play at the ball stopped the Blues from scoring in the 69th minute.

7. Tom Christie – 7

Some typically tenacious defence, making tackles from every angle. Could have seen yellow for some blatant cynical play in the 76th minute while his side already had an advantage against them. Christie came out of this game looking like he’d been in a gnarly fight, batted and bruised but not surrendering an ounce of effort.

8. Sione Havili Talitui – 6

Havili Talitui went about his business on defence, making 12 tackles. Elsewhere he was quiet.

9. Mitchell Drummond – 7

Drummond has struggled with his form so far this season but is slowly finding his feat in 2023, and this match was another step in the right direction for the halfback. With Mo’unga handling the majority of the kicking game, Drummond’s influence in that space was minimal but effective.

10. Richie Mo’unga – 8.5

Made a couple of clutch tackles early as the last line of defence. The broken-play nature of the first half brought out a variety in Mo’unga’s skillset, his kicking game both long and short created opportunities and his flat passing found runners at ease. The audacity to go for a cross-kick from his own line in the 45th minute was ridiculous and exactly what makes him the All Blacks top option.

11. Leicester Fainga’anuku – 9

Fainga’anuku hasn’t managed to have such a strong influence on matches this year compared to his breakout season in 2022, but started round 4 with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and found the ball multiple times early. Finished two first-half tries with finesse. Retrieved a cross kick early in the second 40 and ran 80 meters, fending off Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to score his third.

12. Dallas McLeod – 8.5

Does a great job of finding the half-gaps and running straight lines to give the Crusaders front foot ball, using his physicality to take the ball into contact in areas that make his support’s job easier in clearing the ensuing ruck. Started the second half showing a bit of his kicking game, which yielded a positive gain in territory.

13. Braydon Ennor – 8

looked much more at home in a more structured game this week compared to last. Slipped off Telea leading to the Blues’ opening try. Ennor’s ability to consistently read attacking schemes and disrupt the ball doesn’t always mean he’s running out of the line making the big play, but it does continually put pressure on the attack, keeping them on their toes and disrupting front foot ball.

14. Sevu Reece – 7.5

Typically involved on both ends and punished any tackle attempt that was lacking. Losing the aerial battle to Caleb Clarke showed Reece’s Achilles heel, one that is holding him back in the All Blacks pecking order. Off ten minutes into the second half.

15. Fergus Burke – 7

Found more opportunities to inject himself on attack. Claimed the Crusaders opening try with a great line and just enough pace. Quiet in the second 40.

Reserves:

16. Brodie McAlister – 6.5

Came on with great defensive presence but a not straight lineout gifted the Blues their final attacking opportunity in the final minute.

17. Kershawl Sykes-Martin – 5

Yellow carded in the 65th minute after a number of team penalties.

18. George Bower – 6.5

19. Zach Gallagher – 6

20. Christian Lio-Willie – 6.5

21. Willi Heinz – 7.5

Heinz’s kicking game is turning into a real asset for the Crusaders. Remarkable try-saving tackle on Hoskins Sotutu in the dying minutes.

22. Pepesana Patafilo – 7.5

Great defensive IQ shown, positioning himself and timing his tackles well to disrupt forward momentum.

23. Macca Springer – 7

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