It seemed as though the nation’s focus was drawn to the showdown between two unbeaten, in-form teams oozing with talent. The Crusaders match with the Blues was a big tense clash that will certainly influence the outcome of this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.

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A cool crisp night in Christchurch and the Blues were pumped up out of the gate and they shook the Crusaders in the first quarter. The champions know how to sap up pressure and win crucial moments, however, and ultimately came through 26-15.

Here’s how the Blues players rated:

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1. Alex Hodgman – 7.5/10

Reliable one-off runner and an ox at the breakdown. Dominated Michael Alaalatoa at the scrum and if he can keep this standard up, higher honours could be on the horizon.

2. James Parsons 7

Has played reliably and error-free this season and was all industry again tonight. Sadly, got a nasty smack on the noggin from his buddy Ofa Tu’ungafasi at 28 mins and was off for the night.

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3. Ofa Tuungafasi – 7

Stayed straight and true in the scrum all night, forcing Joe Moody to swing out in the scrum in the lead up to the Rieko Ioane try. Solid tackle count (12) and even found himself at halfback on his line to relieve some pressure.

4. Patrick Tuipulotu – 6.5

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Stamped his mark on David Havili in the 13th minute and had a storming start to 2nd half with ball in hand to earn an opening penalty. A tough ask in Christchurch but as a leader, the Blues really needed him and Beauden Barrett to step up and spark a comeback against the python-like Crusaders.

5. Josh Goodhue – 7

Tireless, honest outing against the Crusaders pack.

6. Akira Ioane – 7

Got his work rate back to a very solid level and showed plenty of strength. With Hoskins Sotutu’s knock, went the full 80 and was still contributing at the final whistle.

7. Dalton Papalii – 8

Defended like a dervish, topping the tackle count from either team. Has the Richie McCaw-like ability to look fresh after a brutal clash. Sad indictment on the game to be penalised after a poisonous tackle that landed him on top of a ball carrier.

8. Hoskins Sotutu – 7

Made an incredibly powerful run from an attacking scrum at 7 minutes and was only just denied a try. Great intercept just before halftime to deny the home team but faded in the second half after a knock.

9. Finlay Christie – 7.5

Like a dancing flame, the redhead popped up to spark attacks from the base of the breakdown and scorched ball carriers in the defensive line.

10. Otere Black – 6.5

Visionary pass for Mark Telea’s first try and slotted the conversion from the sideline. Ran the flat offence really well with good option taking but the charge down of his conversion was a clanger and a turning point in the game. Off in the 58th minute.

11. Caleb Clarke – 6

Chased gainfully all night but couldn’t stamp his mark on this game. One nice high-ball take.

12. Harry Plummer – 6.5

Penalised at 30 mins after Christie trapped his legs in at a tackle. Solid performance, especially in defence, as Crusaders looked to exploit his channel. Lasted the full 80 but looked tired as Will Jordan exploded past him in the 77th minute.

13. Rieko Ioane – 7.5

Up for this game, crisp distribution and dominant against a big, physical midfield opposition. When he got his chance at 54 minutes he had no hesitation to plough his way through 4 tacklers to score an awesome try.

14. Mark Telea – 7.5

Started the game full of pep, chasing and tagging Crusaders high-ball takers. Beautiful finish for the game’s first try. Explosive run down the right moments later but then was eclipsed by Bridge as the red tide turned.

15. Beauden Barrett – 6.5
Seemed to have his red head on in this big match rather than the cool collected demeanour we’d seen so far in the Blues jersey. Got pinged 3 times at the tackle for some over-exuberance. Showed some amazing skills with his positional and territorial kicking work but, in contrast to Mo’unga, couldn’t spark his team with ball in hand.

Reserves:

16. Kurt Eklund – 7.5

On at 28 mins. Always hard to come on cold but kept the lineout ticking over and was like a pitbull in open play on both sides of the ball. 11 tackles, 6 carries for 20 odd metres. Nice work.

17. Karl Tu’inukuafe – N/A

18. Sione Mafileo – N/A

19. Aaron Carroll – N/A

20. Blake Gibson – N/A

21. Jonathan Ruru – N/A

22. TJ Faiane – 6.5

On at 58 mins. Wound up on a couple of straight runs but to no effect. Highlight was a beautiful daisy cutter tackle at 69 minutes.

23. Matt Duffie – N/A

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