Seeing that this was the first home game of the season for the Crusaders it was critical that RugbyHeads had a "man in the stands" for the big game. Seeing as how I managed to land a free ticket to the game (thanks Telecom!) and Daryn and Adam couldn't make it guess who had to make the sacrifice? *GRIN*
So there I was on a beautiful Canterbury evening sitting in the Main stand with a cold DB in my hand and a nervous feeling in my stomach. I was quietly confident that the boys could do the business but against Auckland you can never be certain. (It never pays to be too confident, especially when Fitzy and the other two Blues supporters are just itching to give it to ya!)
Jade Stadium (at Lancaster park, I can't let that die!) was rocking, the ground was packed, probably more so than usual given the fact that the no. 4 stand has been completely flattened!
As usual the crowd went crazy when the Conquest of Paradise started booming out of the sound system and the mighty Crusaders horses raced onto the ground, that is such an awesome way to get things warmed up, I don't think any other side in the competition has anything that even comes close!
The first 15 minutes was all Crusaders, who came out firing and ran riot on the hapless Blues. In this time Ralph set up two tries, the first through a chip and regather maneuver down his wing that completely confused Vidiri and put Scott Robertson in on the left (Mehrts missed the conversion) and the second through an athletic leap to claim a misguided drop goal attempt from Merhts and offload it while in the air (and the tackle of Vidiri) to a greatful Leon MacDonald. This time Mehrts converted to make it 12-0.
A penalty and a drop goal in the next five minutes stretched the lead to 18-0 and the home team looked completely dominant.
Norm Berryman made a great break up the middle, doing all the hard work to slip out of three tackles but then holding off his pass to the support too long and ultimately losing it forward.
At this point the Blues managed to secure some good possession and mounted an attack into the Canterbury half, which resulted in a penalty right in front, which Hayden Taylor slotted to get them off the downtrou and make the score 18-3.
Mehrts responded with a penalty of his own, after guess who, Troy Flavell, tried to play the ball when he was on the ground. 21-3.
Auckland seemed to wake up at this stage and put together a period of consistent attack, which resulted in a lineout 10 metres out. The Blues forwards took it cleanly and drove towards the line, the ball came back and halfback Robinson sneaked it in over the line. Kelvin Deaker went up to the video ref and after about 3 minutes it was called a try, Taylor added the two. 21-10.
Auckland mount another attack, and my pick for Blues player of the day, Troy Flavell busted over for a five pointer. Taylor missed the conversion but the jubilant Canterbury crowd quietened down a lot at this stage, sensing a real contest rather than the walkover it started out to be. The Auckland fans sitting behind me started to get a bit more vocal to, although they never did get out the Auckland banner they had brought with them!
Their confidence was slightly premature though as Robin Brooke gives a great tap down pass to Ron Cribb who storms down the sideline and feeds Ralph for another try just before the break. Conversion missed, 26-15 at the half.
Mehrtens continued with the pressure early in the second half adding an early drop goal, which went in-off, to extend it out to 29-15.
The Blues quickly responded with a good try to Flavell out wide (his second) but Taylor again couldn't make the conversion and the score remained at 29-20.
The last 30 minutes of the game were something of an arm wrestle, with the Crusaders controlling things pretty well. The only scoring was another Merhtens penalty.
Standout players for me where, Ron Cribb, Caleb Ralph, Blackadder and Mehrts for the Crusaders and Troy Flavell for the Blues. Keven Melamu, starting Blues hooker, had a shocker, really struggling to get his lineout throws right, and again Orene Ai'i struggled to stamp his mark on the game, even though his team won a good amount of possession for him to use he really struggled to get his back line to penetrate the solid Crusaders defensive line.
TRIES Robertson, MacDonald, Ralph
KICKING Mehrtens (1 Con, 3 Pen, 2 Drop)
TRIES Flavell (2), Robinson
KICKING Taylor (1 Con, 1 Pen)
|Crusaders Horsemen salute the stands (107k)
|Checking out the replay (106k) - I wish those reserves and ball boys would let us see!
|Toddy flys high to win an attacking lineout (94k)
|Blues finally win some attacking possession late in the first half (76k)
|Under the lights the Crusaders and the Blues do battle (84k)