The Crusaders mounted another monumental comeback to beat the Blues 33-24 at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Mitchell Hunt scored the match-winning try with eight minutes to play, clawing back a 19 point second half deficit before Mitchell Drummond, sealed the fightback, to improve their unbeaten streak to four.
George Moala scored a first-half brace as the Blues stunned the home crowd to lead 21-5 at the break, scoring three tries to one.
However, it was all Crusaders in the second period. The home side’s forwards dominated the rolling maul, turning another losing position into a victory, scoring three tries for an 11 point win.
The Blues were looking to overturn a losing streak against the Crusaders, stretching back to 2004.
They are the comeback kings of this year’s competition.
Scott Robinson’s men have fought back from 16 points against the Reds and 21 against the Highlanders in the previous rounds.
Augustine Pulu’s try was sandwiched by a brace from Moala as the visitors sped into a 16 point lead after 35 minutes.
The halftime stats showed the Blues had beaten 16 defenders to three for the Crusaders, making eight breaks to one while, the home side had shipped 16 tackles: it could not get any worse.
The second half was the turning point. That and the Crusaders’ forwards found their mauling game.
Not before Piers Francis extended the lead to 19 points after 47 minutes.
But, prior to the penalty, Moala made a break into the opposition’s 22 and with the try line at his mercy, decided to throw a pass when it looked easier to score. Instead of seven points, three.
Soon after, 24-5 became 24-12 when Peter Samu scored from a rolling maul. The Crusaders set up from a lineout, peeled right and as the defenders shifted, the Blues forwards left an opening for the substitute to score.
The flanker looked to have lost the ball in the act of grounding but referee Brendon Pickerill decided not to check with the TMO. Lucky break.
The momentum had shifted; the Crusaders’ driving maul was causing havoc, dominating a tiring opposition.
Two quick penalties followed the two before Samu’s try. The ref warned the Blues that he would go to his pocket on the next infringement. No need.
The home team smelled blood in the water and went for the kill; a 19 point lead was stripped to five when Ben Funnell scored from the ensuing lineout drive.
On 63 minutes Francis had a chance to extinguish the Crusaders’ momentum but he pulled his penalty.
10 minutes later the comeback was complete. Hunt scoring after a dozen phases and quick ball at the breakdown, as he danced over from close range.
The try levelled the scores at 24-all but, the standoff’s third conversion put his team in the lead for the first time in the game.
The Blues were reeling under the weight of the sudden storm. With the clock ticking down, they opted for scrums when they could have kicked an easy penalty, piling on the pain.
Drummond supplied the coup de grâce to deny the Blues a losing bonus point and the capitulation was complete.
The final score is Crusaders 33 (5) Blues 24 (21)
Tries – Mataele, Samu, Funnell, Hunt, Drummond
Con – Hunt (4)
Tries – Moala (2), Pulu
Pen – Francis
Con – Francis (3)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 1: Angus Mabey
Assistant Ref 2: Cam Stone
TMO: Aaron Paterson
15 David Havili, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Jed Brown, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Sean Wainui
15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Ihaia West, 23 TJ Faiane.
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