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Crusaders player ratings vs Blues | Super Rugby Pacific Final

By Mike Rehu
Bryn Hall. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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The Crusaders proved their play-off credentials with a consummate victory over the Chiefs last week and marched on to Eden Park in Auckland happily taking up the underdog status.

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But it wasn’t the underdogs that turned up in the final, it was the top canines; the pedigree pooches that had won 12 titles already and not lost at Eden Park since 2014. They choked the Blues lineout supply and camped in the red zone in the first half with territory stats at over 70 per cent and possession in the 60s. A fragile 6-0 lead was converted to a 13-point lead just before halftime.

It was more of the same in the second half and every time the Blues poked their heads up, a man in red stepped up and shut it down with the game ending 21-7 in the visitors’ favour.

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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.

Another championship in the bag, and the dynasty – the Crusaders’ legend – grows!

Here’s how the Crusaders rated:

1. George Bower – 7.5/10
Won the first lineout turnover at 3 minutes to start the Blues misery. Solid at the scrum against Nepo Laulala who’s been in good set-piece form and always up for a one-off run. Off at 58.

2. Codie Taylor – 7
Looked a little subdued in his 115th match for the franchise, he was palpably not at full fitness. Taylor controlled things well at the back of the first maul and contributed well early with some important carries. Penalised in 55th for a reaction to a physical tackle from Soane Vikena on Sevu Reece, but he shut down the Bryce Heem attack at the next lineout to make amends. Off at 58.

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3. Oli Jager – 7
Not the biggest tighthead prop but does his job effectively at scrum time. Nice period of play in the 27th minute with some deft hands then a brave scramble with ball in hand leading up to the penalty to get the Crusaders out to 6-0. First man off at 51.

4. Scott Barrett – 7
He loves to roll up his sleeves and get into the tough stuff. 15 carries and every one a big challenge to the defence. The 57th-minute turnover was unworldly if not slightly illegal – unless he’s worked out a way to defy physics!

5. Sam Whitelock – 8
Back from his troublesome thumb injury to draw level with Richie McCaw with most Super Rugby playoff games, he was the catalyst for the Crusaders victory. It was like the Blues froze in his presence, the lineout guru who creates the shakes! Even when the Blues managed their first take, he then won a 22nd-minute turnover as they drove away. Also contributed to two other turnover penalties and was just everywhere.

 

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6. Pablo Matera – 7.5
You can count on the Puma at the collision and he played a big part in the dominance in the first half in contact. It was the subtlety that was the icing on the cake; the second-half pop pass to Will Jordan to run on to and the chip kick that led to Reece’s try were sublime.

7. Tom Christie – 8
It’s true he is a tackling machine but he’s so much more. Over 60 more tackles than anyone in the competition shows that he’s a freak but he’s increasingly showing his all-around game. Made a good burst in the 43rd minute and the secured shutdown of the match in the 74th minute with the turnover on Rieko Ioane when the Blues were desperate on attack. Off at 78.

8. Cullen Grace – 8.5
The Timaru Tornado was the brains behind the total decimation of the Blues’ lineout, according to a modest Whitelock post-match. Lineout brilliance, good metres and carries and second-highest tackles for his team. The only hiccup was in the 60th minute where he couldn’t control the ball at the back of the scrum, and that led to Finlay Christie’s try.

9. Bryn Hall – 8
Good sign-off from the champions for the ex-Blue. Capped off a great first half with a dot down after a sustained period of bombardment. Threw a brilliant 48th-minute pass between the legs that should’ve eventually resulted in a Crusaders try. Off at 58 to new adventures.

10. Richie Mo’unga – 9
The talk has been that Beauden Barret will start against Ireland but Mo’unga had something to say about that tonight. Of course, he was given the dream run by his forwards and turned the screws all match, but it was the extra things that made him special. In the 7th minute, he showed what he’s got with a spontaneous run. Kicked a smooth drop goal in the 14th minute and then mopped up some dodgy Crusaders play in the 75th minute at the back of the lineout. Headache time for the All Blacks selectors!

11. Leicester Fainga’anuku – 8
He was the most dangerous runner in the final with well over 100 metres, but it was the mix of power and smarts that showed he may get some time against Ireland in July for the All Blacks. In the 12th minute, threw an amazing backhand flick off the left hand down the left flank. Unlucky to be denied in the 16th, he definitely got the ball down, there was just doubt in how long it took him to touch the turf. Carried with a muscular smash in the 39th minute but was denied moments later by a dazed Sotutu. Off at 67.

12. David Havili – 8
It was a testament to Havili’s game that Roger Tuivasa-Scheck was replaced just after halftime. Havili got up and read the Blues’ midfield forays like a book and smothered them. Showed his rugby brain with a delightful 50:22 in the 15th minute and a full-throttled charge seconds later. Off at 67.

13. Jack Goodhue – 7.5
With the burly centre showing some weakness on the outside break, some pundits were predicting Jack was in for a tough day against the pacey Rieko Ioane. At the end of the day, Goodhue thoroughly outplayed his opposite, wrapping him up and even bumping him off in 12th minute. He showed some good skill to keep attacks hot as well, most notably almost setting up Taylor for a try early on the left flank, and showed good skill on a long pass to keep things rolling in the 17th minute.

14. Sevu Reece – 8
One of the most optimistic rugby players I’ve seen. He will happily chase kicks and run from side to side on the paddock with the hope to get involved. And sometimes it pays off, like with his 77th-minute touchdown. Sometimes his enthusiasm gives up penalties, in the 53rd minute he was penalised for hands in the ruck and then at 70 minutes playing ball on the ground. On the balance though, a star who makes things happen.

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15. Will Jordan – 8
A relatively quiet outing for Jordan but he still picked up almost 100 metres in running yards. The Blues alarm bells rang whenever he threatened the line, a wonderful, freakish player who’d have to go close to Player of the Tournament.

Reserves:

16. Brodie McAlister – 6
On at 58. Made a good shot on Barrett at 70 minutes that thwarted the home team’s attack.

17. Tamaiti Williams – 7
On at 58 and a delivered great scrum in the 65th minute to stop the Blues momentum. Some good runs and signs the big man is gaining in confidence and owning moments.

18. Fletcher Newell – 6
On at 51 and scurried about with ball in hand.

19. Quinten Strange – N/A
On for a couple at the end, and had some time to make some tackles.

20. Corey Kellow – N/A
On for a couple at the end and enjoyed his run.

21. Mitchell Drummond – 4
On at 58 and had the misfortune to see his opposite steal the ball from him and Grace, to get the Blues in the match. Made a little knock-on after lineout steal in 72nd. With Hall going, it will be interesting to see who the Crusaders pick up for 2023.

22. Braydon Ennor – 6
On at 67 and offered some staunch defence on Rieko late.

23. George Bridge – 4
On at 67 and couldn’t get his hands on the ball. The story of his season but hopefully he’ll be back.

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