The Canterbury Crusaders strengthened their grip on the Super 14 with a nail-biting 26-22 win over the Auckland Blues on Friday, taking them a huge step closer to a home semifinal spot.
During an often frantic clash, the Blues pounded the Crusaders’ line in the last 15 minutes, scoring one try and missing another two by the narrowest of margins.
Last weekend the Crusaders’ unbeaten eight-match record was unceremoniously ended by the Waikato Chiefs, but this time they hung on for a victory by four tries to three.
The Blues’ hopes of a semifinal are fast diminishing while the Crusaders, the most successful team in Super rugby history, are close to sealing a home semifinal spot after making it nine wins from 10 games this season.
”I guess the opportunities we got we finished and that’s the key to games like this,” Crusaders captain Richie McCaw said afterwards.
”It got a bit frantic near the end. I think both teams really tried to play and to come out on the right side of it was pretty pleasing.”
All Black skipper McCaw was one of the heroes for the Crusaders, playing a crucial role in securing their eight-to-one advantage in turnovers at the breakdown.
Hooker Corey Flynn was both hero and villain, scoring two tries but spending 10 minutes in the sin bin for a late tackle as the Blues piled on the pressure in the last quarter.
The Crusaders had the lion’s share of possession and territory in the opening minutes and were rewarded in the 11th minute when McCaw scored the first try.
Number eight Mose Tuiali’i took the ball off the back of a scrum and passed inside to McCaw for the try, converted by flyhalf Stephen Brett.
Flynn extended the Crusaders’ lead to 12 points after 25 minutes when flanker Kieren Read was able to offload in the tackle to put Flynn into the clear.
Just as it appeared the Crusaders were taking control, the Blues hit back with a 28th-minute try to winger Rudi Wulf. Tackle-busting flanker Jerome Kaino set up the try for a 12-7 scoreline, which remained unchanged to the break.
Two minutes into the second spell, the Blues hit the lead briefly as number eight Nick Williams spun through a wall of Crusaders defenders to plant the ball against the goal posts.
But the Blues’ advantage was short-lived with Flynn on hand just three minutes later to complete a sweeping breakout from within the Crusaders’ own 22.
Flynn’s sin-binning in the 62nd minute provided a penalty, which Nick Evans — playing at fullback rather than his usual flyhalf spot — coolly slotted from nearly 50m out.
But typically the Crusaders hit back with a converted try to replacement Ti’i Paulo. A late try by Blues winger David Smith was not enough after captain Troy Flavell and outside centre Anthony Tuitavake each missed the tryline by just a couple of centimetres. — AFP