The competition is winding down to the business end of the season and while the Crusaders had looked to all but seal another trophy in the cabinet, there was a road bump dead ahead in the Crusaders, which was our Saturday night opening game. On Sunday the Chiefs continued their quest for an opening win of the season when they ventured up the road to face the Blues. Lets take a look at how the two games went….
CRUSADERS 32 vs 34 HURRICANES
The Hurricanes have become the form chasers of the Crusaders in recent weeks and with confidence high they ventured south to take on their ultimate task.
A testing opening period rewarded both sides with a penalty shot at goal for three points a piece but it was the Crusaders who really struggled to get on the right side of the ref.
Once they sorted the run of penalties, the attacking flair started to come their way. From a lineout maul close to the Hurricanes line, Jack Goodhue showed whats been lacking in his game recently, taking the ball at first receiver, he drew in a number of defenders and offloaded exquisitely to Richie Mo’unga who dragged his way over the line.
The Hurricanes were quick to reply. Some brutal running from Peter Umaga-Jensen over three phases set the Hurricanes on rampant period. The quick platform gifts them a overlap of the right edge for Wes Goosen who is a clinical finisher and tied it back up.
If you thought what we had happened already was impressive, fill your boots on this next try for the Crusaders. Sevu Reece splits the defence in two, as the cover defence races across Reece throws a huge wild pass out to the left wing for George Bridge who could get nowhere near a catch and instead volleys it forward and with the erratic bounce of the rugby ball it pivots away from a chasing Jordie Barrett to give a clean chase to Bridge who scores the Crusaders second! A try you must see to believe.
The Hurricanes hit back again though, a little more conventional than the Bridge try, but just as effective. Asafo Aumua put in a thunderous run down the left wing to again get that go forward, then it was that man again, Wes Goosen! With an extraordinary show of acceleration, he shot through the half gap to grab his second try and switch the lead yet again.
With the half wearing down, the Hurricanes chose to go for the sticks yet again to extend their lead out to 21-17 as the two sides headed in for half time.
Kicking into the second half the Crusaders started to pick up their game. Six minutes of the half were played before we saw the penalty from Mo’unga but in all that time it was domination by the Crusaders controlling possession for a very long period and playing nicely with advantages all along, the game was changing. Can the Hurricanes fight back?
Enough for a penalty, yes they can. Hurricanes absorb a long period on defence to quickly fight their way back into range of a penalty and as quickly as its called, Barrett knocks it over. Lead back to four, but it never seems enough against the Crusaders.
That penalty has lifted the wind into the sails of the Hurricanes who looked extremely dangerous straight away. The lineout set up beautifully for Barrett who wiggled and weaved his way through the defence. Quickly fired out to the right wing yet again, this time Goosen left as a decoy and Peter Umaga-Jensen battles his way through three defenders to plant it in the corner. Lead extended to eleven points! Can the unthinkable happen!?
It is far from done yet though. Over fifteen minutes still to play and the Crusaders enter the danger zone. From the set play scrum, the forwards took over. Pick and go after pick and go, relentless attack from the Crusaders. Almost inevitably they power over with a charge involving over half the pack and up comes Quinten Strange to be awarded with the try. Game on yet again as the lead is cut to just four points, 31-27 Hurricanes.
With the clock ticking over the 73 minute mark, the Hurricanes get a crucial penalty just inside the Crusaders half and the thunderous boot of Jordie Barrett add the extra three. Really was game on now, Hurricanes lead by seven.
Step up once again, Richie Mo’unga, he lifts again for the Crusaders. Pulling out the dummy and fooling defenders, the cuts through the defence and fires a perfectly weighted floater out to Sevu Reece to score on the right edge. From the sideline Mo’unga couldn’t add the extra two to tie it all up, do the Crusaders have another chance?
Any chance with ball in hand is a big opportunity for the Crusaders and Will Jordan almost turns it into gold with a big break down the right side, keeping the ball in hand to recycle he was out done by a fired up Jamie Booth who wins the penalty and after a little scuffle between players and a yellow card for a punch to Strange, win the game as well!
Almost an unbelievable situation to see the Crusaders lose a match, but the Hurricanes held on to seal it. Du’Plessis Kirifi and Peter Umaga-Jensen were outstanding for Hurricanes and its hard to look past Richie Mo’unga yet again for the Crusaders. Another cracking match that will leave us wanting more. Such a shame the Super Rugby AU match follows it….
BLUES 21 vs 17 CHIEFS
Its become a little surprising how the Blues have tracked over the last couple of weeks and now up against the winless Chiefs, it was expected there would be plenty of backlash at Eden Park.
Which is exactly how it kicked off as well, just a few minutes in after the Chiefs battled their way around the half way line, they eventually gave away a scrum to the Blues and with the set piece the backs lit up the park. A well executed set play with a subtle flick to a rocketing Matt Duffie who came from deep, hitting a perfect line and went through and just had enough pace to beat the defenders to the line.
That bred more confidence for the Blues and they found themselves with more ball and more half leaks in the defence. Working into the twenty two, the forwards took over. The captain Patrick Tuipulotu bashing his way over with a good low drive under the defence, to double the lead.
Mid way through the first it may have been easy for the Chiefs to drop their heads but they battled on and after getting their first penalties of the match, made their way up the park. Kicking for touch over the points, Damien McKenzie brought some spark to get deep into the Blues twenty two and to prove a point, the pack took over to show they can do it too. Some smart play around the ruck helped Lachlan Boshier get a little more room near the white line to bundle over and get the Chiefs on the board.
Chiefs had a truck load of penalties in the Blues half for the remainder of the half, but consistently went for the sideline looking for five and turned away many kickable penalties. The two sides went to half time with a score still 14-7 to the Blues.
Teams don’t always need a good platform from the scrum to launch an attack and that’s exactly what the Chiefs did. A wobbly take off the back from Pita-Gus Sowakula floats to no one in particular but is snapped up by Brad Weber who cracks the defence and finds Aaron Cruden and Anton Lienert-Brown who continue the attack behind the defence and up the field. As you would expect from a good winger, Solomon Alaimalo bursts away from the cover defence to score in the corner but sadly injured in the tackle of the try scoring process, its tied up 14-14!
Very quickly after levelling the scores, McKenzie has a shot to give the lead to the Chiefs for the first time in the game. Right in front, forty meters back and he does not disappoint, splitting the uprights and giving his side a three point lead.
The see-saw takes another turn as the Blues put pressure on the Chiefs half and a thundering run from Ofa Tu’ungafasi got the Blues within a couple of meters. A quickly spotted snipe from Finlay Christie who plants the ball on the line before getting squashed by the defence and puts the Blues back in front yet again.
The final fifteen minutes of the match has a number of huge chances to put this game in their favour but some extremely desperate goal line defence and errors at key times proved to be the killer end for both sides. With only two minutes remaining, Harry Plummer was sent to the bin for repeated penalties.
With only four points the difference, neither side could put the final blow on the other. The Chiefs falling agonisingly short yet again this season! Was a great show of committed defence from both sides and another truly entertaining fixture of Super Rugby Aotearoa!
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