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'It was that feeling of the Crusaders of old as I had my face behind a pillow'

By Ned Lester
Tamaiti Williams of the Crusaders. Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images

As poor as the Crusaders’ results have been in 2024, their opponents have remained acutely aware of the championship DNA lurking in the background that could rear its head at any given moment.

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The Blues of all teams know never to underestimate the perennial champions, but it didn’t matter when the Auckanders travelled to Christchurch for their round 14 grudge match.

In a break from what had become tradition, the top-of-the-table Blues faced a Crusaders outfit fighting for a slither of playoffs hope, desperate to keep their uncharacteristically woeful season alive.

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The reigning champions stepped up and took the game to the visitors, ultimately earning their third win of the season and resigning the Blues to the all-too-familiar position of leaving the Christchurch stadium disappointed.

“The Crusaders were outstanding, I thought the Blues played really well as well,” Blues centurion James Parsons said on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“If you look at it statistically, apart from the penalty count, they (the Blues) were operating at 93 per cent on defence, high at set piece, strong at the breakdown.

“I do think certain players with experience that came back, if you look at (Codie) Taylor, (Ethan) Blackadder with 12 carries, 24 tackles, 39 rucks; Cullen Grace had similar numbers, I think Fergus Burke is an out and out 10 with experience at this level. It came together and some of their best players stood up.

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“The Blues are the most successful team at defending their line. But, the Crusaders played on their terms, a lot of teams have just tried to wear the Blues down but if you watch Codie Taylor with his quick tap before halftime, that is the making or breaking of that game.

“If they take their time and go to the lineout, potentially the Blues can get in their system and maybe they infringe and take the three (points) or at least stop them.

“The fact that they played that off the cuff and determined how the Blues had to react was a big part in winning that game.

“I was suppose that try in the end, because it was pretty even in the second half, was the difference.”

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Taylor’s performance in the contest has been praised, as has his influence on the team since returning from his sabbatical and assuming the captaincy in Scott Barrett’s absence.

All three of the Crusaders’ wins this season have come against teams well above them in the standings – the Chiefs, Rebels and Blues – and all three wins have come at home.

Points Flow Chart

Crusaders win +2
Time in lead
23
Mins in lead
49
29%
% Of Game In Lead
61%
84%
Possession Last 10 min
16%
0
Points Last 10 min
5

For the Blues, discipline let them down, with 14 penalties giving the Crusaders the upper hand.

“A lot of (those penalties) came through technical issues at scrum time,” Parsons added. “Obviously, there were a few changes especially in and around the breakdown, with Dalton Papali’i not being there. Adrian Choat is a player who will challenge the breakdown a lot more, so I suppose that (risk) comes with that.

“But, 14 (penalties) when they’ve averaged around five or six all year, it shows you the punishment you get.

“You’ve got to give credit to the Crusaders for taking the opportunities. Also, 12 kicks in the first half and 18 in the second; they controlled terms, they controlled where they played and it was that feeling of the Crusaders of old as I had my face behind a pillow watching yet again another loss.

“I don’t think it’ll do any harm to the Blues, it’ll set them up for the finals. But, you’d have to think the Hurricanes are in the box seat to finish top of the table. You’d have to think they’ve got a better chance at getting a bonus point (against the Highlanders) than the Blues do against the Chiefs.”

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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