Crusaders vs Blues
Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand
7:35pm (NZDT), 19th Feb, 2011
Halftime: CRU 19 - BLU 6
Fulltime: CRU 22 - BLU 24
Beautiful summers' evening in the Super City, with a crowd of 32,700 in the fancy new Eden park stands.
I was hoping that this game would be a bit more "Super" than the first up match last night between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders. I was very happy with the result on that one (14-9 to the visting under-dog Highlanders) but the game itself was an ugly stop-start affair, riddled with mistakes, penalties and Mr Nonu trying too hard to impress.
Anyway, back to Eden Park.
Lots of interesting things to look out for in this one, including:
- Dan "Obi Wan" Carter's matchup with his young under-study Stephen "Vader" Brett, the poor soul who was lost to the dark side of the Blues
- the return of Ali Williams to top level rugby
- the clash of two All Black laiden forward packs, with only Crusader flanker Matt Todd (filling Richie's big boots) and Blues No 8 XXXX not having international honours
- the clash of two young backlines brimming with talent like Dagg, Maitland, Toeava, Ranger and Joe Rockstar all present, with the comforting feeling that I didn't care which "united-state" of Isaiah Toeava turned up as he wasn't wearing an AB jersey
- whether supposed Mccaw number 1 backup Braid, could stamp his mark on the game and Richie's rookie replacement
The game kicks off, and takes off. Both sides immediately put together some good phases of possesion, with both sides playing very good defence too. I particularly remember Toeava's big hit on Sean Maitland, and a big reply from Corey Flynn on Rene Ranger when the Blues were deep inside the Crusaders territory.
The teams exchanged penalties and the sith lord battle got off to the good start, with both Carter and Brett nailing their early kicks to make it 6-6 after about 16 minutes.
Then at the 21st minute the Crusaders scored the first try. They worked a quick lineout on the left hand touch and Carter and Ellis pull of a nice little double-around to unleash Dagg and Maitland on the right wing. Dagg put a great grubber kick through the defence and Maitland hit the afterburners, patiently waited for the ball to bounce up, and scored in the corner.
Carter missed the conversion, but slotted a penalty a little later to take the score out to 14-6 to Crusaders after 29 minutes.
Then it was the Blues chance to have some possession. They spent a lot of the next 10 minutes in the Crusaders half, and even managed to cross the try line twice, but not to the benefit of their scoreline. The first once was disallowed because of an illegal obstruction, and the second one was finally disallowed (after about 23,000 replays) when John Afoa was deemed to have knocked it on before Kaino grounded it. I thought it was obvious in real-time but I then my one-eye does have exceptional visition.
The Crusaders finally got some possesion back, and in the 38th minute, not long after another penalty miss from Carter, Robbie Fruen returns a kick from Brett with interest, powering out of a tackle by Afoa and setting up an 80 metre attack that ends with Andy Ellis scoring a nice try. Obi Wan misses the conversion.
19-6 at half-time, with both sides looking pretty good when they had the ball, but the Crusaders looking very comfortable on the score board, and would have been even more dominant in that regard if Carter's goal kicking had been as good as it kicking in play (he missed a couple of penalties and conversions).
60/40% Territory to Blues in the first half and pretty even in all other stats but Crusaders just scored points when they broke the defensive line, and the Blues didn't.
Brett's kicking was a bit wonky too, as was his spitting, with one pre-kick goober landing on his chin just as the camera zoomed in for an HD closeup, funny as.
His general play was very good though, especially when he read Andy Ellis's fancy little box kick on the Blues 22" and spread it wide to Rene Ranger who rampaged up to about 10m from the Crusaders try line (leaving Maitland and George Whitelock in his wake) and set up Stanley for a try in the corner.
Brett couldn't convert, 19-11 to the Crusaders at about 50th min.
Another penalty though from the kickoff and Carter show's how to do it, slotting another penalty to push it out to 22-11 for the Crusaders.
Blues fight back into the Crusaders and Brett slots this penalty chance, 22-14 to the Crusaders at 58th minute.
Then from the kickoff the Blues manage to hold onto the ball for about 20 phases, focusing on breaking the Crusaders through the middle particularly when they got inside the 22" and the Crusaders couldn't keep them out, Tony Woodcock crashes over, Brett misses the conversion. Oh darn.
22-19 to the Crusaders, now this big Blues crowd have really turned up, it could be a big factor.
The Blues receive the kickoff well again, Kevvy Mealamu has been the man under most of them and has put in a top performance all round. Blues half-back Alby Matheson skips through some weak Crusaders defence and the Blues are back on attack. They should have scored out wide on the left but Darth tried to use an old jedi kick pass, which totally missed everyone, when putting it through the hands would have seen a 3-1 overlap exploited and an easy try. That's the problem with the dark side, sometimes they get too cute.
It didn't matter though, the ref was playing advantage, and the Blues kicked for a lineout on the 10m line and after a bit of rumbling Kevvy rampaged out of the breakdown and rumbled over the top of Andy Ellis for a nice try in the corner.
24-19 to the Blues. Brett missed another conversion and promptly went to the bench, replaced by a young first-five, Lachie Munro, who I wasn't familiar with, but Grant Fox, commentator, suggested it was a goal kicking sub. With a two point lead and about 10 minutes to go goal kicking was going to be a factor.
Both sides were pulling out all the stops, with the Blues particularly making a great break up the right hand side, giving right-wing sub Sherwin Stowers, of NZ commenwealth 7s fame, a crack at Israel Dagg.
Dagg managed to force him back into the defence but the Crusaders infringed and Munro got to show why he was subbed on.
He lined up his kick, Fox talked him up again, he runs in, kicks it, and ... missed. Oh darn.
It didn't matter though, play rumbled around for another couple of minutes in the half-way zone and then the Crusaders infringed, the Blues kicked it out, and it was all over, 24-22 to the Blues.
A quick revisit of the things I thought I would look out for:
- "Obi Wan" Carter vs "Darth" Brett. Carter was more influential on his team's performance by far, but Darth won the game.
- Ali Williams was hardly a factor as I saw the game. For sure he isn't quite back to full conditioning, he only played 60min, but Anthony Boric was far more noticable to me.
- The Crusader's forward pack seemed to have the edge in the lineout, but Mealamu was by far the most influential forward on the park, and I think I would give the edge to the Blues in the scrums, but there were a couple of tight heads both ways.
- Toeava and Ranger for the Blues and Maitland and Fruen for the Crusaders were the stand-out outside backs for me. Isiah had a good game, which in retrospect was nearly as annoying as him having a "brain explosion" game for the team I was supporting!
- I didn't see Braid as having a big influence at all. Matt Todd had a good game for a young fella, but it was probably Read and Kaino that really stamped their authority in the loosies.
A great start to the season for both teams really, I wasn't that bummed that my Crusaders lost, they played well and got a competition point for finishing within seven, and would be very happy with their first hit out. As has always been the case in the past, winning the home games is the critical thing, do that, and pick up a few away wins here and there and you will find yourself in the playoffs.
Great to see Super Rugby back though, I think I actually missed it!