The Crusaders beat the Blues 26-15 in a thrilling top of the table Super Rugby Aotearoa clash at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.
Second-half tries from super subs Mitchell Drummond and the irrepressible Will Jordan saw the Crusaders mount a stunning fourth-quarter comeback to beat the high-flying Blues.
It is the Saders’ 12th consecutive win against the Blues in Super Rugby going back to 2014.
Richie Mo’unga had a hand in Drummond’s try and also put Jordan away for the game-winner. It was a special performance from the 26-year-old.
The first-five kicked four penalties and two conversions as the three-time defending champions fought back to blitz the Blues with a late surge.
Mark Telea opened the scoring for the Blues, who took a seven-point lead until the 28th-minute.
Ill-discipline and a mounting penalty count allowed Mo’unga two shots at goal in quick succession to reduce the gap to one point at halftime.
The kickers traded penalties soon after the restart before the game lit-up when Rieko Ioane scored.
It sparked a furious backlash from the home team and changed the momentum, immediately.
Otere Black’s conversion attempt was charged down, and the Crusaders went up the field and scored through Drummond on 64 minutes.
Mo’unga’s conversion put the Saders ahead before knocking over a penalty on 67 minutes.
The first-five, who played a part in Drummond’s try, had a drop-kick charged down, moments later.
With the clock running down, Mo’unga-magic won the game for the hosts when he put Jordan through a hole to win the game.
The victory maintains the Crusaders’ unbeaten run at home to 36 while ending the Blues’ seven-game winning streak to move to keep them top of the Super Rugby Aotearoa log.
Blues start hot, but the Crusaders slowly take control of the first half.
The Blues opened the scoring following a sustained period of attack.
Hoskins Sotutu barged through several defenders after the Crusaders lost their lineout on their 5-metre line.
The referee ruled the big No 8 held-up after Mo’unga and George Bridge looked to get hands underneath the ball.
It did not matter, though, because Telea took Blacks long, skip-pass and stretched over to score in the corner on 10 minutes.
Black slotted the sideline conversion to get the Blues up and running.
The Crusaders had a couple of chances at points but decided to kick for the corner.
Some brilliant work by Dalton Papali’i to steal the ball from the Crusaders after Codie Taylor went close.
Mo’unga’s pass to David Havili was poor allowing the Blues to push up and clear their lines.
Another penalty went the way of the home side after Sotutu is off his feet.
Mo’unga, however, overcooked his kick, and the ball flew out behind the in-goal area.
The penalties started to mount against the visitors, who conceded eight inside 30 minutes to the hosts’ two.
The Aucklanders were, however, upsetting the rhythm of the Saders’ lineout, winning a couple of turnovers from the usually miserly home pack.
Another penalty, after James Parsons left the field, allowed Mo’unga to put the hosts on the board before the half-hour mark.
The Crusaders first-five added another three points, from in front, after another penalty, a couple of minutes later.
Robertson’s charges had full control by now. They had two sustained attacks before the break.
One attack went 13 phases, the other seven, but somehow, McDonald’s men kept them at bay to take a slender one-point lead into the shed.
Blues start the second stanza as they did the first, extending their slim lead.
The Crusaders hadn’t lost a match at home since 2016 against the Hurricanes, but the Blues were certainly challenging the three-time defending champions.
Joe Moody strayed offside allowing Barrett to kick to the corner.
The Blues were building momentum with a 12-phase attack on the Saders’ line; they won a penalty and Black kicked the easy penalty, straight in front.
The Crusaders came right back and landed a penalty of their own, three minutes later, as the teams traded blows.
Harry Plummer missed a long-range effort, soon afterwards, after Michael Alaalatoa gave away his second scrum-penalty of the game.
The Crusaders survived a scare when Plummer knocked-on with the try-line at his mercy.
The centre was under pressure from Braydon Ennor, who knocked the ball back over the in-goal for Bridge to dot down.
It was helter-skelter now.
The Saders demolished the Blues pack, but they concede a scrum-penalty. The Blues took the quick-tap, and Rieko Ioane crashes over to score.
Ennor charged down Black’s conversion attempt before Mo’unga ran to halfway to take the restart quickly.
The first-five gathered his drop-kick and raced to the Blues’ 22 but the attack died after a knock-on in the second attack.
The Crusaders kept coming, though, striking on the hour mark before pulling away for the win.
Sustained pressure saw Bridge break down the left-wing after Mo’unga’s double-pump delayed pass to the winger.
Bridge drew the last defender and sent Drummond away for the score.
Mo’unga added the extras to put his team ahead (16-15) for the first time in the contest.
The defending champions kept coming; they won a penalty, kicked to the corner and went 11 phases before another penalty went their way.
Mo’unga called for the tee and extended the lead to four with 13 minutes to play; he also had a drop-goal charged down before sending Jordan away, at the death, to clinch the win.
For the Blues, the long wait goes on.
Final Score: Crusaders 26 (6) Blues 15 (7)
Tries – Drummond, Jordan
Pen – Mo’unga (4)
Con – Mo’unga (2)
Tries – Telea, R. Ioane
Pen – Black
Con – Black
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 1: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO: Mike Fraser
15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor (captain), 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Oli Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Sione Havili, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Fetuli Paea, 23 Will Jordan
15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Aaron Carroll, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Thomas Faiane, 23 Matt Duffie