Much hyped, the game failed to reach the levels of quality anticipated and it became a slug-fest between both packs until the last 15 minutes when tiredness, and changed sides with the benches employed, saw a loosening up that both sides took advantage of.
Past masters of the craft, especially in big games, the Crusaders demonstrated greater intent, and capacity, to contain the efforts the Blues mounted.
Penalties conceded by the Blues were especially costly and four in succession, three of them within the 51st and 59th minutes, advanced the Crusaders from 17-8 to 29-15.
First five-eighths Richie Mo’unga scored 28 points in a defensive display that set the Crusaders up for another strong run for their fifth consecutive Super title.
While the Blues matched the Crusaders’ four tries, it was their concession of penalties that kept ticking the scoreboard over.
The game decider was when replacement hooker and two-try scorer Kurt Eklund flung wing Sevu Reece over his shoulder after Reece had been penalised for playing Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu in the air. The penalty was reversed and from the resulting play, Mo’unga waltzed around the blindside to score what was the simplest try of the game to take the lead to 36-20.
The Blues did respond when the ball was moved wide for replacement flanker Tom Robinson to make ground down the sideline, and when he was halted after turning infield No.8 Hoskins Sotutu was on hand to score.
Then, in yet another costly mistake, Ofa Tuungafasi was sin-binned for a glancing blow to the head of Crusaders captain and lock Scott Barrett. While the Blues looked to strike again, turnover ball saw Fainga’anuku stretch the defence before quick ball opened space out wide for Reece to score
Coming back from the break and up 17-8, the Crusaders immediately lifted the tempo with flanker Ethan Blackadder bludgeoning space through the Blues defence but the only reward was a Mo’unga penalty goal.
The Blues responded after Fainga’anuku was caught with hands in a ruck. The lineout maul followed with flanker Akira Ioane taking the ball to the line before it was released from the ruck for Eklund to drive over for the try.
In a portent of things to come an early unforced Blues error, when an obstruction occurred in midfield, saw the ball kicked to the corner and after the lineout a chip through by halfback Bryn Hall saw second five-eighths Jack Goodhue win the touch down in the 10th minute.
Then responding immediately, the Blues won a string of penalties just out from the Crusaders line, but they were unable to turn that to scoring advantage. However, when the Crusaders got downfield from a penalty clear, they attempted to bring Fainga’anuku in from the blindside, but he dropped the ball.
Blues second five-eighths Harry Plummer swooped on the ball. The ball was moved right and when it looked like the Crusaders’ scrambling defence had worked again, wing Caleb Clarke back-fired a long pass to flanker Blake Gibson waiting on the sideline.
He took the ball and had enough momentum to get over in the corner for the try. Barrett launched his referral for a forward pass, but Clarke was ruled to have passed the ball backwards from the hand.
Halfback Jonathan Ruru’s failure to roll clear at a tackle gave the Crusaders the chance to kick to the corner and in the 31st minute that brought reward, at the second attempt, as hooker Codie Taylor was on the back of the maul to score.
It was a harsh but useful lesson of the need for discipline in such high stakes games.
Scorers: Blues 27 (Blake Gibson, Kurt Eklund 2, Hoskins Sotutu tries; Otere Black 2 con, pen) Crusaders 43 (Jack Goodhue, Codie Taylor, Richie Mo’unga, Sevu Reece tries; Richie Mo’unga 4 con, 5 pen). HT: 7-18