Blues fall to another defeat as Crusaders march on

Author
Gregor Paul,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Saturday, 19 May 2018, 7:29PM
Matt Duffie of the Blues clashes with Manasa Mataele of the Crusaders while going after a high ball. (Photo / Photosport)
Matt Duffie of the Blues clashes with Manasa Mataele of the Crusaders while going after a high ball. (Photo / Photosport)

In one respect this was a standard home defeat for the Blues. They were outplayed and out-thought in most areas by a fellow Kiwi team and suffered what is now the entirely expected fate of losing.

And yet in many other respects, it felt different. There were some strangely promising and uplifting attacking moments from the Blues that hinted – only hinted mind – of the potential that lies within.

Not that everyone didn't know it already, but if they can find a way to regularly play Rieko Ioane into space, then that alone will make them an infinitely better-attacking team. He gave a tremendous reminder of just how good he is.

The Blues also showed considerable character and resilience to haul themselves back into the game which was threatening to run away from them midway through the first half.

The Crusaders were starting to look ominously powerful and well in the mood to crank the handle and crush the Blues. They were dominating territory and possession, using their set-piece to build the pressure and the exploiting the space out wide through some slick handling and timing.

The Blues were hanging on a bit, but they found a bit of grip when Sonny Bill Williams tore through the midfield and set Ioane away for a try.

And that resilience was on show throughout the second half when the Blues refused to roll away. They kept finding ways to stay in touch and not let the score blow out on them.

Their defence stiffened, their accuracy in exiting their own territory improved and they were lively enough and good enough to strike on the limited possession they had.

They were maybe never a serious threat to actually fight their way back and win, but the quality of their performance against the defending champions should be realised.

Especially as the conditions also played into the Crusaders' hands. They love a driving maul and with the ball slippery it made sense to use their power and cohesion.

It's such a good weapon for them and they used it cleverly. Not sparingly, but nor did they overdo it. They found that sweet spot to grind the Blues in the first half hour with it but not become predictable or one dimensional either.

Two first-half tries came directly from it. The first had the Blues seething because they argued they didn't compete. Which was true.

But Scott Barrett, who caught the ball from the lineout, didn't transfer it back either so the Blues' bluff was called and the risk of not competing exposed.

The second try came after the hooter had gone and would have had Blues coach Tana Umaga throwing his pen or slamming his lap top shut – whatever coaches do these days when they are fuming and know they have the omnipresent camera on them – because it was all so needless.

Pauliasi Manu gave away a dumb penalty when the Blues themselves had just won one and were looking to push for a sneaky score. Richie Mo'unga thumped it 10 metres from the line and the forwards waddled it close enough for Bryn Hall to score.

What would have added to Umaga's dark mood was the sight of Owen Franks controlling the ball at the back of the maul.

Franks was lucky to be on the park after footage appeared of him rattling into breakdown fists first and collecting James Parsons' head. There was no doubt he did the crime – and Parsons didn't return after being forced off for a head assessment – but referee Glen Jackson said he couldn't issue a card because there had been a set-piece between the incident happening and coming to light.

Who knew that there was a statute of limitations on foul play?

Crusaders 32 (G. Bridge, Q. Strange, M. Todd, B. Hall tries; R. Mo'unga 3 cons, 2 pens)
Blues 24 (M. Duffie, R. Ioane (2), M. Collins tries; S. Perofeta 2 cons)

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