June 16, 2023
The Crusaders have once again dashed the Blues' title hopes by dominating their Auckland-based rivals in a 52-15 win in the first Super Rugby Pacific semi-final.
In doing so the Crusaders stretched their unbeaten record in playoffs matches in Christchurch to 29 games and moved closer to their 12th Super Rugby title.
In next weekend's final they will face the winner of the second semi-final between the Chiefs and the Brumbies.
The Crusaders again were in their element on a frigid winter's night with a hint of early frost on the ground.
They pounced on Blues' errors to score tries through centre Braydon Ennor and winger Leicester Fainga'anuku to lead 15-0 after 11 minutes.
"We were well aware of what the Blues were going to front up with and we knew we had to start well," Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said.
"From there I think we just shut their game down with some big efforts on defence and that's probably going to be required next weekend as well."
The Blues came into the match full of confidence after a solid regular season.
But playoffs rugby is different and the Crusaders are masters of it, especially in their home conditions.
The Blues showed signs of anxiety, even panic early on with careless passes and poor kicks as the Crusaders played at pace in defence as well as attack and built relentless pressure.
In the contest of All Blacks playmakers, Richie Mo'unga was pre-eminent for the Crusaders, taking advantage of time, position and opportunity to create attacking chances while Beauden Barrett was perpetually pressured and confounded for the Blues.
The match was a breakthrough for Crusaders backrowers Sione Havili Talitui and Christian Lio-Willie who both have had growing roles this season as injuries have taken a toll.
They were regular and effective ball carriers and Havili Talitui carried twice in the movement that led to a try by fullback Will Jordan.
Hooker Codie Taylor worked the ball over the goal line after waiting patiently for the opportunity from a protracted lineout drive and the Crusaders led 32-3 at halftime as a match that had been expected to be close turned into a romp for the Crusaders.
Barrett scored the Blues' first try in the 58th minute, scooting between tacklers close to the line.
Mo'unga stretched the lead to 42-8 with a penalty and finished with nine goals from 10 attempts for 21 points.
He also handed off the last pass in a try to Fergus Burke which took the Crusaders to a 49-8 led in the 71st minute.
Mo'unga's final penalty took the Crusaders past 50 points and left the Blues' hopes not only dashed but devastated.
"Credit to the Crusaders," said Blues captain Dalton Papalii.
"They've set the standard for years now and when it's time for finals footy, they just seem to go up another level."
CRUSADERS 52 (TRIES: Ennor, Fainga'anuku 2, Jordan, Taylor, Burke CONS: Mo'unga 5/6 PENS: Mo'unga 4/4)
BLUES 15 (TRIES: B. Barrett, Clarke CONS: B. Barrett 1/2 PENS: B. Barrett 1/1)
CRUSADERS (1-15): Tamaiti Williams, Codie Taylor, Oliver Jager, Scott Barrett (c), Quinten Strange, Sione Havili Talitui, Tom Christie, Christian Lio-Willie, Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo'unga, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Jack Goodhue, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod, Will Jordan
RESERVES: Brodie McAlister, Kershawl Sykes-Martin, Reuben O'Neill, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Willi Heinz, Fergus Burke, Chay Fihaki
BLUES (1-15): Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Ricky Riccitelli, Nepo Laulala, Tom Robinson, James Tucker, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii (c), Hoskins Sotutu, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Bryce Heem, Rieko Ioane, Mark Telea, Zarn Sullivan
RESERVES: Kurt Eklund, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Cameron Suafoa, Adrian Choat, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Stephen Perofeta
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Ben O'Keeffe, James Doleman