The Crusaders cemented their position at the top of Super Rugby standings with an unconvincing 19-11 win over the Blues in Christchurch on Saturday.
Crusaders scrumhalf Bryn Hall and Blues wing Rieko Ioane scored the only tries in the match.
It was a ragged match, but then it was played on a cold Christchurch night after heavy fog that left thick dew on the grass. The result was an uncharacteristic game of much kicking, poor handling and little continuity.
The Crusaders won it after their week of travel and behavioural inquiries as they came back from their Cape Town draw. They, surely, are not pleased with their performance, other than the win. But it is strange for them to score only one try in a match. but then they came close on two other occasions, foiled by the watchful eye of the TMO.
Not that the Blues threatened to get their first win in Christchurch since 2004. They were not plagued by near things.
Two penalty goals by Richie Mo’unga gave the Crusaders a 6-0 lead after 8 minutes. Both penalties were conceded at tackles, the first by Jonathan Ruru, the second by Scott Scrafton. Neither kick was difficult.
The Crusaders had a lineout on their right, some 12 metres inside their half. They won the throw, the referee played advantage in their favour and they went left. Bryn Hall passed to Mo’unga who chipped. Ryan Crotty chased and gathered the bouncing ball. Challenged, the clever centre gave to Hall on his right and the scrumhalf raced 30 metres or so for a try near the posts. 13-0 after 20 minutes.
The Blues kicked off, Matt Todd was penalised and Harry Plummer goaled to make the half-time score 13-3 – that after the Blues had had a majority of possession and territory. In fact the Crusaders were the ones doing the tackling – 108 to 65, with 27 missed to 16.
The Crusaders were better in the second half. Twice they seemed to have scored. Sevu Reece got a low bouncing ball near the right touchline. They went left, Jack Goodhue chipped and George Bridge “scored”. But the TMO was consulted and detected a Reece knock-on before he got the ball.
On the second occasion, Melani Nanai kicked. David Havili caught and kicked high. Bridges chased, leapt and got the ball. Hall kicked ahead and Mo’unga got the ball. He went for the left corner and a did-he, didn’t-he try as Nanai tackled him. The referee’s onfield decision was a try but he consulted the TMO about three things – a possible offside by Mo’unga, the nature of Nanai’s tackle and the grounding of the ball.
It was decided that Mo’unga was onside when Hall kicked, the referee decided that Nanai’s tackle was not illegal and the TMO decided that Mo’unga had lost the ball in attempting to ground it. The upshot was a five-metre scrum to the Blues, as the crowd voiced its annoyance.
It was hard to accept that the tackle was legal, not when the law states A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.
The Blues won the scrum five metres from their line, Ma’a Nonu bashed the ball up, and Plummer cleared – and Nonu was substituted
Scott Barrett of the Crusaders was penalised twice in quick succession, and Plummer goaled to make the score 13-6, bringing the Blues into bonus-point range. But a minute later they were penalised for advancing ahead of Plummer’s downfield kick and Mo’unga goaled. 16-6 after 58 minutes – back beyond the bonus point.
The Blues were the next to score – a try this time. A penalty gave them a lineout on their right in the Crusaders’ 22. They threw deep, won the lineout and moved the ball wide left with some excellent handling. Nanai was up in the line and gave a brilliant, pressured pass to Rieko Ioane who had an overlap and scored in the left corner. 16-11 with 8 minutes to play – and with the possibility of a bonus point.
But five minutes later Alex Hodgman was penalised for barging in a lineout and Mo’unga wiped out the Blues’ chance of a bonus point with a penalty goal which produced a final score of 19-11.
Man of the Match: Points count. The Crusaders’ flyhalf kicked 14 and produced the chip that resulted in the other five. Richie Mo’unga is our Man of the Match.
Pens: Mo’unga 4
Try: R Ioane
Pens: Plummer 2