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'Just heartbreak for them': Crusaders defence praised for two key plays against Blues

By Kim Ekin
Hoskins Sotutu of the Blues loses the ball over the try line during the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between Blues and Crusaders at Eden Park, on March 18, 2023, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Former All Black Jeff Wilson and ex-Black Fern Honey Hireme have praised the efforts of the Crusaders defence which proved critical in the second half against the Blues at Eden Park.

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Holding on to a 34-28 lead the Crusaders stopped the Blues twice over the line in the last quarter of the game, forcing a knock-on on both occassions to prevent a would-be go-ahead conversion.

Lock James Tucker looked certain to score from a barge over but a last-ditch effort from Crusaders fullback Fergus Burke dislodged the ball.

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With minutes remaining Hoskins Sotutu caught a Barrett crossfield kick and crashed over out wide but again last-ditch defence from Crusaders halves Willi Heinz and Richie Mo’unga forced a fumble.

Wilson said it was typical of the Crusaders defence to come out with such desperation and make the big plays when necessary.

“It was quality football from both sides when they held onto the ball and the big players stood up,” Wilson said on Sky Sport NZ’s post-match show.

“There were big moments late in the game. The defence was desperate. We know that when it comes to defending their line, the Crusaders hang their hat on it.

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“They did it once again.”

In a game of wild momentum swings, the Blues had the better running in the second half but could not capitalise.

Stephen Perofeta crashed over in the 55th minute to narrow the Crusaders lead but that would be the last scoring act of the night for the home side.

Hireme said that they had the momentum but it only ended in ‘heartbreak’ at the hands of an ‘epic’ defence.

“Two absolute key moments here, you thought the Blues had all the momentum and they were denied both of these tries,” said former Black Fern Honey Hireme said.

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“It was just heartbreak for them because they were throwing absolutely everything at such a strong Crusaders defence.

“I thought that was absolutely epic defence from the Saders.”

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Former All Black wing Sir John Kirwan lamented the two missed chances but overall was impressed by the spectacle put on by the two sides.

Despite the Blues loss he said it was ‘one of those classics’ that will be remembered as a fond chapter in the rivalry.

“They will be disappointed a couple of opportunities went missing,” Kirwan said.

“But it was just a classic derby between two great sides. A great spectacle of a game.

“It was one of those see-saw games where you saw the pressure go from one side to the other, right to the very end the Blues could have won it.

“We spoke about it before the game how we wanted some of their big players to step up on both sides and we saw that.

“I thought Beauden [Barrett] controlled the game very, very well from the Blues side. We saw Sam Whitelock make that critical turnover late in the game.

“It was just one of those classics.”

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