Super Rugby Pacific: Crusaders crowned champions after victory over Blues in final

·4-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

The Crusaders were crowned inaugural Super Rugby Pacific champions after sealing a 21-7 victory over the Blues at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.

As the scoreline suggests, the Christchurch-based franchise were the dominant side for most of this match and they outscored the home side by two tries to one with Bryn Hall and Sevu Reece crossing the whitewash for the victors. Their other points came courtesy of a conversion, two penalties and a drop-goal from Richie Mo’unga.

For the Blues, Finlay Christie scored a try and Stephen Perofeta succeeded with a conversion.

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Despite slippery underfoot conditions as a result of earlier rain, the Crusaders did most of the attacking during the opening 20 minutes, but were thwarted on a couple of occasions.

In the second minute, Leicester Fainga’anuku found himself in space close to the Blues’ try-line but he was bundled into touch by Mark Telea and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

10 minutes later, Fainga’anuku and Jack Goodhue traded passes down the left-hand flank before the latter offloaded to Codie Taylor deep inside Blues’ territory but, once again, Telea spared the blushes of the home side with another excellent cover tackle at the corner flag.

Soon after, the Crusaders took the lead when Mo’unga dropped into the pocket and landed his snap-shot from midway between the Blues’ 22 and their 10-metre line. The visitors continued to have the bulk of the possession as the Blues’ struggled to build momentum with their lineout play putrid as they lost several balls at the set-piece.

The Crusaders continued to dominate and a minute later Fainga’anuku showed great strength to shrug off the combined efforts of Christie, Alex Hodgman and Tom Robinson to cross the whitewash but his effort was ruled out as television replays showed that it was inconclusive whether he grounded the ball.

When the Blues did string some phases together the Crusaders’ line speed on defence frustrated them and the home side spent very little time in their opponents’ half. In the 30th minute, Mo’unga increased the Crusaders’ lead when he succeeded with his first penalty and the visitors continued to hold the upper hand as the half progressed.

On the stroke of half-time, they launched one last attack with Fainga’anuku running onto an inside pass from Mo’unga deep inside the Blues’ 22. The powerful wing’s progress was halted just short of the try-line but the Crusaders did well to recycle the ball quickly. And after Pablo Matera was also stopped by the Blues’ defence, Hall dotted down from close quarters. Mo’unga added the extras which gave the visitors a 13-0 lead at the interval.

The men from Christchurch continued their dominance after the break and increased the lead in the 46th minute when Mo’unga slotted his second penalty after Tuivasa-Sheck infringed on defence.

Like the first half, it was all Crusaders during the next five minutes, although the Blues gained a reprieve when Scott Barrett was held up while crossing the whitewash in the 51st minute.

With time running out on the clock, the Blues needed a response and that came in the 59th minute when scrum-half Christie caught Cullen Grace in possession at the back of a scrum deep inside Crusaders territory. Christie gathered when Grace lost possession, before diving over for a deserved try.

That score was a shot in the arm for the Blues as they upped the ante on attack during the final quarter but they continued to commit unforced errors while the Crusaders did not lose their defensive shape.

And in the 78th minute, Matera stabbed through a teasing grubber kick which Sam Nock failed to deal with just in front of his try-line. Reece gathered the loose ball before diving over for an easy five-pointer and in doing so he clinched a deserved win for the Crusaders.

READ MORE: Super Rugby Pacific: Rugby Australia threatens to break from New Zealand Rugby in shock move

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