Super Rugby

Majestic Mo’unga stars as Crusaders slay Blues

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The Crusaders beat the Blues 27-43 in a thrilling Super Rugby Aotearoa spectacle at Eden Park, Auckland.

Richie Mo’unga starred for the Crusaders, scoring a try, setting up Sevu Reece at the end, and kicking 23 points for a match haul of 28 points. His masterclass from first-receiver separated the contenders from the pretenders.

Mo’unga, flawless from the tee (five penalties and four conversions), passed 800 Super Rugby points –– the third Crusaders first-five to do so after Dan Carter (1,708) and Andrew Mehrtens (990).

The unbeaten Crusaders extend their lead at the top of the Super Rugby Aotearoa table with an impressive victory over the previously undefeated Blues after four rounds of the tournament.

Leon McDonald’s men put their Super Rugby title credentials to the test, and although they came up short, this was no failure. They just came up against a superior winning machine.

The victory, however, is the Crusaders’ 13th Super Rugby win in a row against the Blues and seventh on the trot at Eden Park –– so much for the Blues laying down a marker.

Scott Robertson’s side matched their host’s four tries but it was the boot of their playmaker –– and player of the last two years –– who made all the difference.

Jack Goodhue, Codie Taylor, and Reece joined Mo’unga on the scoreboard.

Blake Gibson scored his side’s first try, Kurt Eklund came off the bench to bag a second-half brace, and Hoskins Sotutu dotted down for a consolation near the end.

Crusaders lead at halftime despite Blues dominating territory and possession as well as the penalty count

Both teams fell foul of referee Paul Williams. Each conceded double-digit penalties: Blues 16, Crusaders 12.

Set-pieces were issued as well, with both packs losing scrums and lineouts during the 80 minutes.

The Crusaders led by nine at the interval after tries from Goodhue and the omnipresent Taylor. The 29-year-old hooker had another stormer.

Mo’unga converted both scores and added a 27th-minute penalty as the defending champions asserted their authority.

Super Rugby Aotearoa Round 4 Video Highlights: Blues vs Crusaders at Eden Park, Auckland

The Blues had led 8-7 after 20 minutes following a Gibson try and Black’s eighth-minute penalty, but they squandered several attacking opportunities, especially scrums on the Saders’ try line.

The 26-year-old first-five kicked his second penalty three minutes into the second half to extend the Christchurch team’s lead, but Eklund crashed over, five minutes later.

Black’s conversion made it 15-20, but Mo’unga slotted three penalties in eight minutes to open a 14-point lead for the 11-times Super Rugby champions.

Eklund goes from hero to villain as hooker’s ill-discipline proves costly

Eklund crashed over for his second try, his third of the campaign, to cut the gap to nine points with 13 to play.

However, the hooker conceded a needless penalty for flipping Reece on his back after the winger had been pinged for a dangerous tackle.

The visitors kicked to the corner and were soon over for their third score thanks to some Mo’unga magic.

Sotutu pulled a try back from the restart, but it was too little, too late. Robertson’s men always have more in the tank in the last quarter.

Ofa Tu’ungafasi’s 75th-minute yellow card ended any chance of McDonald’s charges mounting an improbable comeback.

Reece ended the game with the Saders’ fourth score, which brought up the forty-burger.

Blues have the better of the game but cannot find a way over the chalk as Crusaders take their chances

Taylor made 12 tackles and a turnover to go with his five-pointer, his lineout throwing was superb, although he did give away three penalties –– just a menace.

He also played a part in Goodhue’s try, which came from the Saders’ first attack of the first half.

Otere Black opened the scoring with an early penalty, but the South Islanders hit back when Goodhue beat Akira Ioane to Bryn Hall’s stab-grubber to score.

Mo’unga added the extras before Gibson’s score gave the hosts a one-point lead following a TMO review for a suspected forward pass by Caleb Clarke.

The Blues dominated everything but the scoreboard

At one stage, they enjoyed a monumental 80% territory and possession inside the first quarter.

That David Havili and centre partner Goodhue both made 15 tackles in midfield only highlights the statistical unbalance.

They were just two of seven Crusaders players to make double-digit tackles, while no Blues player reached 10.

The hosts beat more defenders (21-18), made more clean breaks (6-4), and made more than double the offloads (16-7).

McDonald’s side made more runs (108-61), more passes (161-93), hit more rucks (90-53), and conceded fewer turnovers (8-11), but scored 16 points fewer despite nearly two thirds total territory and possession at the final whistle.

None of this made any difference to the outcome.

Mo’unga again put his side ahead with his first penalty. The men in red had scored twice from two visits in 20 seconds of possession inside the opposition’s 22 –– vintage Crusaders.

The Blues, however, only had eight points to show for more than two minutes inside their opponent’s 22. Chalk and cheese.

The game opened up as both teams counter-attacked from all over the field.

Luteru Tolai’s ill-discipline cost his team as Taylor, aided by some backs, flopped over from a powerful driving maul. Mo’unga’s second conversion gave the Saders a two-score lead at the break.

Majestic Mo’unga takes over as Blues’ errors compound

Four more Mo’unga penalties sandwiched Eklund’s 48th-minute try as Robertson’s charges took control.

The 29-year-old replacement hooker matched his opposite number, crashing over from close range. Black could not convert; however, the flyhalf went close on 66 minutes.

The ball was recycled quickly, and Eklund crashed between Mo’unga and Reece to make it 20-29 with 13 to play.

It was a false dawn, though, because the front-rower gave away a needless penalty after an altercation with Reece.

His moment of hot-headedness cost his team dearly because Mo’unga danced through the hooker’s weak tackle and threw a dummy, to put the game to bed.

Sotutu’s moment of brilliance, from the restart, went unrewarded.

Tu’ungafasi’s sin-binning was inconsequential. Mo’unga set-up Reece, who provided the dagger.

Final Score: Blues 27 (8) Crusaders 43 (17)

Scorers

Blues
Tries – Gibson, Eklund (2), Sotutu
Pen – Black
Con – Black, Plummer
Drop –
Cards – Tu’ungafasi (Yellow, 75′)

Crusaders
Tries – Goodhue, Taylor, Mo’unga, Reece
Pen – Mo’unga (5)
Con – Mo’unga (4)
Drop –
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 1: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO: Brendon Pickerill

Teams

Blues

15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (Captain), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Luteru Tolai, 1 Alex Hodgman

Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tom Robinson, 21 Adrian Choat, 22 Finlay Christie, 23 TJ Faiane

Crusaders

15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody

Replacements:
16 Brodie McAlister, 17 George Bower, 18 Oli Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Fergus Burke, 23 Dallas McLeod

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