February 19, 2011
Blues 24 Crusaders 22
A gutsy decision by inspirational skipper Keven Mealamu capped a dramatic comeback as the Blues beat the Crusaders 24-22 in a Super Rugby rugby match in Auckland.
Trailing by three points with 10 minutes left, Mealamu opted to forgo a shot at goal to gamble for a try and it was the hooker himself, playing in his 118th Super Rugby match, who crossed to give the hosts the perfect start to the season.
It was the finale to a stunning second half for the Pat Lam-coached team which scored three tries after the break to rally from a 6-19 halftime deficit.
Benson Stanley started the revival, before prop Tony Woodcock narrowed the gap to pave the way for his All Blacks front row partner Mealamu to seal the win.
It was the first win for the Blues over the Crusaders since 2007 and in front of a bumper 32,700-strong crowd who would have had their doubts of such a result after tries by Sean Maitland and Andy Ellis gave the visitors the first half advantage.
Daniel Carter and Stephen Brett traded early penalties before the Israel Dagg's vision caught the home side out.
Dagg, who moved from the Highlanders in the off-season, spotted space in behind the Blues' defensive line and put in a grubber kick in for winger Maitland to regather.
With Joe Rokocoko caught out of position, Maitland diced with the sideline before crossing untouched.
In a half dominated by uncompromising defence, the hosts were somewhat unfortunate not have a try themselves after multiple television replays were required to deny them.
Another grubber kick, this time by Brett, was not gathered in goal by Maitland and after a bit of pinball ended with Jerome Kaino claiming the try.
The Blues, who benefitted from Carter's wayward goalkicking - he missed four out of eight kicks at goal - went three points further behind after a rare successful kick by the All Blacks first five-eighth. Both he and Brett struggled on a perfect night for goalkicking with Brett landing only three of his nine attempts.
With a minute left in the half Robbie Fruean made the most of a match-up with prop John Afoa to charge upfield. The ball found its way to Dagg who toyed with the defence before his infield pass was hacked ahead by the impressive Matt Todd for Andy Ellis to regather and score and give the visitors a 19-6 lead at the break
Blues winger Rene Ranger, who was prominent in the second half with a numbers of powerful runs, gave them a sniff of a comeback after the resumption when he beat Maitland and eluded George Whitelock before sending Stanley over for the try.
When Woodcock capped a strong 20 metre surge by the Blues forwards to drive over with 18 minutes left the rally had reached the bounds of possibility.
When Mealamu powered over from a ruck near the line with 10 minutes left it was tangible and they withstood the final charge to confirm the remarkable recovery.
BLUES 24 (Keven Mealamu, Benson Stanley, Tony Woodcock tries Stephen Brett 3 pens)
CRUSADERS 22 (Andrew Ellis, Sean Maitland tries Daniel Carter 4 pens) at Eden Park.
Referee: Chris Pollock.