Sunday, April 27, 2008

Crusaders deny gallant Blues

Marc Hinton,
April 25, 2008 - 8:07PM

Crusaders 26 Blues 22
The Crusaders have prevailed 26-22 over the Blues in a magnificent Anzac Day Super 14 battle in Christchurch on Friday night.

The Blues, who sprang a surprise by lining out with Nick Evans at fullback and Isa Nacea at first five, would not have been the unhappiest to go into the break trailing just 7-12 after the first 40 minutes of a fairly intense encounter.

Skipper Richie McCaw and hooker Corey Flynn scored the first-half tries for the Crusaders, helping them spring out to a 12-0 lead after 25 minutes, but Rudi Wulf replied with a seven-pointer to close the gap to within reaching distance by the end of the opening stanza.

In an electrifying, and contentious, second 40 both teams threw the kitchen sink at each other, with the Crusaders over the moon to hang on for a four tries to three victory that also earned them the bonus point.
Flynn, who had a high-profile match to say the least, grabbed a second try five minutes into the second spell to answer Nick Williams' early score that got the Blues into the lead, 14-12, just a couple of minutes into the renewal of skirmishes.

With both teams creating opportunities aplenty over the second spell, replacement hooker Ti'i Paulo made probably the most crucial (and talked-about) play of the game 14 minutes from the end.

With Flynn having been despatched to the sinbin for a second high hit and Evans having banged over the resultant penalty from 50m to close the Blues to within two, Paulo's score -- which should never have been -- put the Crusaders back out to 26-17.

Replays later showed that Crusaders wing Sean Maitland had put a foot in touch before making the key pass to McCaw who set the score up by making the final delivery to Paulo's for a stunning seven-pointer that rocked the Blues back on their heels.

But David Nucifora's men were far from done in a splendid contest that pulsated right to the very end.
But perhaps it was not meant to be for the Blues who are having one of those seasons.
Within a couple of minutes of Paulo's score, Blues captain Troy Flavell looked to be over for a try that would have really put the cat among the pigeons.

But this time, as Flavell lunged with a meaty pay in the left corner, the try decision went to the TMO and it was ruled that Flavell's hip had hit the line a fraction of a millisecond before he grounded.

Fair call. But it would be slim compensation to the Blues that this knife-edge call went against them when a clear foot in touch before Paulo's try was not able to be referenced.

By this stage the Blues had finally got their attacking game into full flow -- after about two months of trying -- and the Crusaders spent most on the last 10 or 11 minutes hanging on by their fingertips.

Anthony Tuitavake, who had a stunning match, launched a brilliant attack 11 minutes from the end, running off the electrifying David Smith, and looked like he might have scored possibly the try of the season before the TMO again denied him on the line. Outrageously, the Crusaders were awarded a relieving free-kick, which was evidence alone that at least one of these ELVs is well wide of the mark.

Still, seven minutes from the end Smith, who really should have been given this chance much, much earlier, was over to get the Blues within striking distance. Justin Collins had made the break from a lineout snatch and replacement back Isaia Toeava set his wing up perfectly for another close call that finally went the Blues' way.

The Blues had their chances over the closing minutes, but their season was perhaps summed up when, less than two minutes from time, Evans kicked a touch-finder from a penalty dead to squander what would have been a royal chance for the Blues to go for the match-winning try.
And that was that, the Crusaders having to survive one more Blue wave before they eventually forced the breakdown turnover to hang on for possibly the most hard-earned five points they've earned this season.

It's hard to know whether the Blues would have had a chance of a short lineout try near the end, for they lost four on their own throw to a sharp Crusaders set piece, but it summed their season up to see them fall victim to their own shortcomings.

This was a vastly improved performance from the Blues, who monstered the Crusaders at scrum time and looked much more of an attacking threat behind the constant threat of Tuitavake in midfield, but in the end they took just one point from this splendid encounter from which they probably deserved more.
They weren't out-fought on a night of high drama. But they were definitely out-thought.
CRUSADERS 26 (Corey Flynn 2, Richie McCaw, Ti'i Paulo tries Stephen Brett 3 cons) bt BLUES 22 (Rudi Wulf, Nick Williams, David Smith tries Nick Evans 2 cons, pen) at AMI Stadium. Referee: Lyndon Bray (Nzl).

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