Crusaders cruise past Blues
Christchurch - Crusaders put the Blues firmly in their place with a convincing 23-3 victory over their fierce rivals at a rain-soaked Christchurch Stadium on Saturday to move into second place in the New Zealand Super Rugby conference.
A slow start to the season had left the seven-times champions trailing the resurgent Blues by three points in the standings but tries from centre Ryan Crotty and prop Owen Franks either side of halftime put their season right back on track.
Fullback Tom Taylor, kicking despite the presence of Dan Carter in the team, added 13 points but the match was won up front with captain Kieran Read and locks Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock leading an outstanding forward effort.
The Blues had their moments and both fullback Charles Piutau and centre Francis Saili came close to scoring tries but the visitors never really got the chance to unleash their dangerous backline in the slippery conditions.
The key moment of the match came just before halftime when Blues lock Culum Retallick was adjudged to have deliberately knocked the ball forward to prevent a try-scoring opportunity out wide and sent to the sin-bin.
Taylor converted the ensuing penalty to send the home side into the break with a 13-3 lead and, with Retallick still kicking his heals on the touchline, the Crusaders pack persisted with the driving maul to send Franks over the line for a try.
A second successful conversion from Taylor followed by his third penalty nine minutes later gave the Crusaders a 23-3 lead with 22 minutes remaining.
The Blues had to throw caution to the wind but they found the Crusaders obdurate in defence with All Blacks winger Zac Guildford and fullback Israel Dagg both making key contributions.
Auckland had started the match brightly but were pegged back by Taylor's first penalty in the 23rd minute and Crotty's try three minutes later.
Blues flyhalf Chris Noakes had an uncharacteristically nervous evening and it was his clearance kick that Crotty charged down and regathered to set the Crusaders on their way to victory.
Crusaders – Tries: Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks. Conversions: Tom Taylor (2). Penalties: Taylor (3).
Blues – Penalty: Chris Noakes.
15 Tom Taylor, Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Willi Heinz, 20 Adam Whitelock, 21 Israel Dagg
15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tim Perry
Substitutes: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Francis Saili