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'Steph Curry for us': Richie Mo'unga compared to NBA superstar by Robertson

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson reserved high praise for his star first five after the Crusaders upset the Blues 21-7 in the Super Rugby Pacific final at Eden Park.

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Whilst it was up front at set-piece time that spoiled the Blues’ possessions, it was the Crusaders’ game drivers that piled on the pressure with smart tactical kicks to keep the Blues pinned down inside their own half for large portions of the game.

Two thirds of the Crusaders’ kicks on the night were either contestable or attacking, grubbers, chips or cross-field kicks, which constantly put the Blues backfield under pressure on a wet night with a slippery surface.

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That strategy paid off in the final moments when Sevu Reece scooped up a grubber kick from Pablo Matera after the Blues failed to secure the bouncing ball in the backfield. Reece’s try all but sealed the game with five minutes remaining.

Roberston compared Richie Mo’unga to NBA superstar ‘Steph Curry’ and labelled him as a ‘franchise quarterback’ for his ability to run the game and control proceedings around the park.

“That first 50 minutes, my lord, we lost our way a little bit after that, but the pressure that we wanted to put on the Blues, it happened,” Robertson said on Sky Sport NZ‘s post-match interview.

“Richie Mo, franchise quarterback, what a player. He’s Steph Curry for us, we just love him and we just stood up again like he has in the last six finals.

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“We were just pleased we could put our whole full team out. To get a result like that, it’s special.”

When asked if the tactical kicking against the Blues was a part of the game plan, first five Richie Mo’unga admitted that wasn’t but that the backs played what was in front of them and kicked when necessary.

Mo’unga said the Crusaders wanted to play a high-tempo game and play with freedom in the quest to capture their six straight title.

“To be honest it wasn’t [the plan],” Mo’unga revealed.

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“It was set to play. There were times and passages in that first half where we moved the ball side-to-side, really put them under pressure.

“As backs, we just saw space and attacked. Coming into this game, we wanted to have the freedom to unleash the shackles, not be pressured by the occasion, just play heads-up footy and that’s what we do as Crusaders.”

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The pressure game applied by the Crusaders started with the line out, an area that Robertson admitted his side had deliberately targetted.

Blues hooker Kurt Eklund struggled to hit his targets on what seemed like a malfunctioning line out operation. At times, the Blues struggled to get jumpers in the air or tried the overthrow option to no avail.

The Blues completed just 47 per cent of their throws compared to their season average of 77 per cent, indicating just how much influence the Crusaders had over their set-piece.

“Yeah it was,” Robertson said on whether they were out to target the Blues line out.

“We wanted to put pressure on Eklund and get up in front, we knew they slow down their calls now and again.

“We wanted pressure straight away from the first line out. We kicked off first and had the wind so that was a big call, and they just didn’t get out of their half for a long period of time.

“We won a lot of hard balls. I’m just so proud, it’s pretty special to do it here at the Garden.”

Richie Mo’unga described the win as ‘special’ after having ‘backs against the wall’. The Crusaders lost to the Blues at home 27-23 in a pivotal clash earlier in the season that handed home ground advantage to the Auckland-based franchise.

Armed with a point to prove in the final following the round robin loss, Mo’unga said that is when the Crusaders play at their best.

“It’s just special. Put everything into a season, set our goal at the start to win six in a row, and to achieve it here in Auckland, it’s just special,” he said.

“Of course, they got one over us during the round robin but we just wanted to embrace this feeling, coming up here, backs against the wall and that’s when we perform at our best.

“Backs against the wall, something to prove, come up here to the City of Sails, I’m just stoked.”

With six Super Rugby titles in six years, Mo’unga was reluctant to call this one the sweetest of the lot, instead indicating that he is not done winning titles in Christchurch after signing on for one more year in 2023.

“The next one is the sweetest,” Mo’unga said.

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