Crusaders beat Blues 21-13 in lead-up to Super Rugby title


CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand–Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo scored two tries to lift the Crusaders to a 21-13 win over the Auckland-based Blues on Saturday, keeping alive their bid for an eighth Super Rugby title and snuffing out the Blues’ slender playoff hopes.

Nadolo used his immense power to score in the 16th minute, then added the match-winner in the 75th as the Crusaders stayed atop the New Zealand conference and temporarily moved into second place on the overall table.

The Christchurch-based Crusaders were under pressure for long periods and trailed 13-11 until the 65th minute when All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter put them ahead with a penalty.

Nadolo’s second try ended the Blues’ courageous challenge and left only four New Zealand teams in contention for playoffs spots.

The Blues took a 13-11 lead to halftime and the outcome of the match hinged on a 10-minute spell in the second half when Carter kicked a penalty and Nadolo scored his winning try from Carter’s pass.

But for that period, the Blues were competitive and they held substantial shares of territory and possession for most of the second half. A lack of certainty in the way they wanted to play — wavering between a kicking game and a physical assault on the Crusaders’ defense — let them down at crucial moments. They made errors and the Crusaders capitalized.

Carter started the match at inside center, away from his usual place at flyhalf, and still seems a player seeking his best form. He provided several useful offloads but his best contribution was the short run and pass which led to Nadolo’s second try.

“It was a hard-fought game tonight and we were pleased to get the win,” Carter said. “The Blues really turned up to play.

“They are an extremely dangerous side with a lot of X-factor and we worked hard on our defense to make sure we nullified that and we did.”

The Blues struggled throughout the match to break down the Crusaders’ defense. They had the possession to do so and the territory in the second half but their only try came from an intercept, against the run of play, in the 19th minute.

The Crusaders were hot on attack and seemed likely to score when Blues winger Frank Halai anticipated a blindside pass from scrumhalf Andy Ellis, snatched the ball out of the air and dashed 95 meters to score. He limped from the field soon after with an ankle injury.

A penalty to flyhalf Ihaia West gave the Blues a 13-11 lead which endured until the 65th when Carter’s penalty put the Crusaders ahead for the first time in 40 minutes.

Nadolo then crashed over from Carter’s pass to win the match. The Blues retain a tiny mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs but, from ninth place with one round remaining, have all but abandoned hope.

“I definitely think the energy and the effort was there but when you’re playing a class side like the Crusaders it’s about accuracy as well,” said Blues captain Keven Mealamu, who played his 150th Super Rugby match.

“We made a couple of mistakes that let the pressure off. Against a class side like the Crusaders it’s not good enough.”