Leon MacDonald’s first Super Rugby drop goal gave the Crusaders a dramatic 15-13 win over the Blues in Auckland.
A dodgy TMO decision looked to have broken Crusaders’ hearts, as Isaia Toeava was awarded a late try and Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion put the Blues out in front with just under eight minutes to play.
But with four minutes to go, the veteran fullback slotted the winning drop goal to keep his team in with a good shout of making the play-offs yet again.
The win sees the defending champs leapfrog the Waratahs into third place on the log and the players will surely be up in the early hours of the morning (NZ time) to watch the game in Durban where the Sharks need a bonus-point win to secure a spot in the semis and knock the Saders out.
The Crusaders failed to get the bonus-point win that would have secured a spot in the last four, but in the end Richie McCaw would have been happy just to get the win which keeps his team alive.
The first 40 minutes were fairly flat with both sides looking a little tentative. MacDonald and Gopperth exchanged penalties early on, but apart from that there wasn’t much for the crowd to get excited about.
The Crusaders in particular lacked the intensity you would expect from a side playing for a spot in the play-offs. Both sides were struggling to keep hold of the ball with a total of 23 turnovers conceded in the first half.
The Blues had the upper hand in this department, but were unable to capitalise. This was in the large down to Gopperth’s suspect decision making which saw the Blues flyhalf throw a few dodgy passes and kick when running appeared to be the best option – particularly with the likes of Toeava and Anthony Tuitavake outside of him.
With time running out in the first half the Crusaders finally started to show some determination, coming close on a couple of occasions. But some gutsy defence from the Blues kept the visitors at bay. The Crusaders’ endeavour finally paid dividends when they were awarded a penalty right on the stroke of half-time which MacDonald slotted to give his side a three-point advantage at the break.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder would surely have asked for more from his players in the second half and they responded accordingly extending their lead early on after Rene Ranger was blown for not releasing the tackled player.
A Saders try was certainly on the cards and they looked to have scored through Michael Paterson after some good football skills from Stephen Brett, but the TMO judged that the footage was inconclusive – a decision which left even referee Bryce Lawrence baffled.
However, the incident saw the Saders awarded a penalty and Blues flanker Tom Chamberlain sent to the bin. Brett kicked for the corner and a clever lineout move looked to have put Thomas Waldrom clear through, only for him to lose it forward over the tryline.
Despite being a man down it was the Blues who looked the more menacing and they cut the Saders lead to just three points on 55 minutes through another Gopperth penalty.
A wonderful kick from MacDonald pegged the Blues back in their half with just under 20 minutes left to play. Stupidity from replacement Grayson Hart, failing to release the ball, turned a lineout into a penalty, but by this point thoughts of a bonus-point win had gone out the window.
Richie McCaw pointed to the posts and Macdonald did the rest to restore the Saders’ six-point lead.
Then came the critical moment in the game when yet another Blues turnover put Toeava through and although the TMO footage failed to add any clarity, the try was awarded and the Crusaders looked to be on their way out.
MacDonald, having scored all his team’s points, had other ideas, and when the time was right, he dropped back in the pocket and took his time slotting what could be the most important kick of his illustrious career.
By Andrew Worling