Crusaders take down Blues in tight Super 15 opener

Rookie flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal kicked five goals from seven attempts to nudge the Canterbury Crusaders to a 19-18 win over the Auckland Blues on Friday in a thrilling opener to the Super 15 season.

The 21-year-old Bleyendaal, starting a Super match for the first time, as understudy to injured All Blacks star Dan Carter, landed a conversion and four penalties for 14 points as the visitors won despite having one try against their opponent’s two.

Canterbury, which was runner-up last year despite losing their home ground to the Christchurch earthquake, again showed resilience by twice rallying to hit the front in a match in which in which the lead changed hands three times.

A close-range dropgoal attempt in the dying seconds by scrumhalf Piri Weepu, playing his first match for the Blues, could have forced a fourth lead change and given a win to the home team, but the Crusaders dashed up quickly in defense to deflect the kick wide.

“We were lucky to get away with it,” Crusaders captain Keiran Read said. “I don’t know how we did it but I’m glad that we did.

“We managed to put some pressure on them down their end of the field which led to penalties to us and we were able to kick them.”

The Blues started the stronger and their rush defence created the first try when Israel Dagg’s clearing kick was charged down and flanker Chris Lowrey got to the ball first behind the goal line, with Hobbs converting.

Bleyendaal, a former New Zealand under-20s captain, started nervously but kicked his first penalty in the seventh minute to narrow the deficit.

Auckland though enlarged its lead to 12-3 when winger David Raikuna scored two minutes later. The massive centre Rene Ranger made a powerful break and, after a quick ruck and change of direction, captain Keven Mealamu loomed out wide to make the final pass to David Raikuna.

Canterbury rallied with a try to mohawked centre Robbie Fruean, who was almost the equal of Ranger for his destructive running. Bleyendall’s conversion, which separated two penalties, gave Canterbury a 16-12 lead at halftime.

Auckland then came back with two penalties to Hobbs to take an 18-16 lead after 55 minutes. But Bleyendall regained the lead for the Crusaders with his final penalty 16 minutes from fulltime.

“Games like this between the Blues and Crusaders come down to inches and that’s what happened tonight,” Mealamu said. “We’ll take what we can from this and get better next week.”

The forward contest was close, compelling and heated at times. Both sides had serviceable scrums but Auckland’s lineout work was inexact and at times placed them under pressure.

The outcome was ultimately decided by the backlines, which sparkled with talent and included several members of the All Blacks team which won the World Cup on Eden Park four months ago. — Sapa-AP

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