The Crusaders recovered from a shaky start to bash the Blues 39-10 in Christchurch on Saturday.
The defending champions starved the Blues of possession in the second half and dominated the set pieces. Flyhalf Dan Carter contributed 22 points with the boot, while three second-half tries took the game away from the visitors.
The Crusaders have now won four matches in a row to cement their place at the top of the Vodacom Super 14 log, while the Blues have three defeats and a solitary victory to show for their efforts so far.
The Blues got off to a dream start when they scored in the second minute of the match, after an initial break from No 13 Anthony Tuitavake, and a missed tackle from Crusaders left wing Scott Hamilton, saw Doug Howlett go over in the right-hand corner. Isa Nacewa nailed the conversion from the touchline for an early 7-0 lead.
Dan Carter – who came into the match averaging 67% with his goal kicking this season – missed his first penalty attempt at goal before Nacewa added another three points to make it 10-nil after as many minutes.
The Crusaders thought they’d crossed the Blues line, when Carter switched with Hamilton who found Cameron McIntyre on his outside. The No 12 – a late replacement for Aaron Mauger – threw a wild pass, which appeared to come off a Blues boot, before bouncing into Hamilton’s hands. The referee, however, ruled knock on, much to the disgust of the celebrating left winger.
Three penalties from Carter saw the gap reduced to just one point at half-time, with Joe Rokocoko copping a yellow card seconds before the interval for using his hands on the ground. TV replays showed the Blues winger had made the tackle and jumped up on his feet, but the visitors were down to 14 men.
Surprisingly, the Crusaders didn’t score a point while Rokocoko was off the field.
Blues replacement Brent Ward missed a simple penalty attempt at goal just before Rokocoko returned, before Carter added his fourth penalty to put the Crusaders into the lead for the first time in the game.
As the match entered the final quarter, the home side stepped up another gear, and took the ball through several phases before replacement flank Johnny Leo’o was driven over the tryline. Carter added the conversion to make it 19-10.
The Crusaders No 10 missed another penalty shot at goal, but landed his fifth effort soon after to extend his team’s advantage to 12 points.
Ironically, the best passage of play produced by the Crusaders didn’t result in a try. It began when Carter delivered a cross kick for lock Chris Jack, who lept into the air and tapped the ball back infield to No 8 Mose TuialiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢i. In the end, Leo’o was penalised for a double movement on the Blues tryline and the visitors survived.
Another penalty from Carter made it 25-10, before Blues lock Ali Williams was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul. A minute later, captain Richie McCaw sealed an emphatic win by placing the ball against the padding of the left-hand upright, before scoring again just before the full-time hooter.
Crusaders – Try: Jonny Leo’o (60min), Richie McCaw (76min, 79min). Conversions: Dan Carter (2), Cameron McIntyre. Penalties: Carter (6).
Blues – Try: Doug Howlett (2min). Conversion: Isa Nacewa. Penalty: Nacewa.