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Crusaders edge Blues in sizzling opening to season

Date

Liam Napier

BLUES 18 CRUSADERS 19

Nabbed ... Ryan Crotty of the Crusaders is tackled as he attempts to slice through a gap.

Nabbed ... Ryan Crotty of the Crusaders is tackled as he attempts to slice through a gap. Photo: Getty Images

He arrived to rapturous applause but World Cup hero Piri Weepu couldn't nail a last-second dropped goal as the ever-composed Crusaders held on for a tense 19-18 victory in the opening Super Rugby clash at Eden Park tonight.  

MATCH STATS

It was all too familiar suffocation. They didn't adopt the most attractive approach, but missing inspirational captain Richie McCaw and talisman Dan Carter, this a was crucial, high-stakes win that could prove pivotal in the battle for top seedings in the New Zealand conference.

Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders. Click for more photos

Crusaders prevail in opening classic

Crusaders defeat the Blues in a pulsating opening clash to the Super Rugby season. Photo: Getty Images

The Blues, without All Blacks Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu, came in as favourites but simply made too many mistakes in the tight moments. They were outplayed upfront yet could have won had they converted their first-half chances.

A bumper crowd of over 30,000 flocked to Eden Park to witness New Zealand's two favoured teams slug it out. This was also their first taste of rugby since World Cup glory was sealed 124 days ago.

Rookie Crusaders five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal produced an accomplished and assured display. He led the red and blacks around the park competently, nailed 11 first-half points and made a classy incision late in the match. Two 35-metre penalty misses in the second-half were the 21-year-old's only blemishes. On this evidence he will retain the role next week.   

No cigar ... Piri Weepu of the Blues misses with his match-winning attempt at drop goal.

No cigar ... Piri Weepu of the Blues misses with his match-winning attempt at drop goal. Photo: Getty Images

This was a match of opposing styles. The Blues were keen on frantic movement, utilising the speed and power of Rene Ranger and Rudi Wulf, while the Crusaders' structured style relied on Kieran Read and company laying the platform upfront.

It was the Blues' approach that cashed in early. Again and again they caught the visitors napping with blistering pace making inroads, scoring two tries in the first 10 minutes.  

The absence of Carter's left foot was immediately evident. Israel Dagg's attempted clearance kick was charged by Chris Lowrey. Jerome Kaino botched the grounding, but, luckily, Lowrey was on hand to complete the competition's opening try.

Isaia Toeava and Ranger then linked in a superb break, allowing debut winger David Raikuna to finish a three-man overlap.

Just when you thought the Crusaders were rattled they paused, composed and countered.

As the rain set in, Read's men set about their work with typical patience. With the tight forward gainiing ground around the fringes, Robbie Fruean, who had a powerhouse game, exploited some rare space to stroll through weak tackles from Toeava and Ranger to make it three tries in 20 minutes.

The Blues should have converted more chances. Ably Mathewson dropped the ball over the line in a thumping Read tackle. And a bizarre call with 30 seconds left in the first spell saw them turn down three points, in favour of their shaky lineout, only to be penalised for obstruction. That, ultimately, proved costly.

Michael Hobbs didn't set the world on fire - he missed two of five kicks - in his 55 minute cameo at pivot, but his two succesful penalties gave Pat Lam's side a sniff of victory.

In the final moments, the Blues worked their way down field and set Weepu up for the dropped goal, 10 metres to the left of the posts, but his kick was rushed and limped wide as Read and Dagg pressured.

CRUSADERS 19 (Robert Fruean try Tyler Bleyendaal con 4 pens) bt BLUES 18 (Chris Lowrey, David Raikuna tries Michael Hobbs con 2 pens) at Eden Park. Referee: Chris Pollock.

Fairfax NZ

 

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Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG -1vs FJI -1 05:00Twic
TGA 0vs GEO 0 21:00Kholm
IRE 0vs CAN 0 23:30MilS
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs JPN 0 01:45Brig
FRA 0vs ITA 0 05:00Twic
SAM 0vs USA 0 21:00Brig
WAL 0vs URU 0 23:30MilS
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs ARG 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 0vs JPN 0 23:30Kholm
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs ROM 0 05:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs NAM 0 05:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 0vs GEO 0 01:45Kholm
ITA 0vs CAN 0 23:30Ella
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SAM 0 01:45Villa
ENG 0vs WAL 0 05:00Twic
AUS 0vs URU 0 21:00Villa
SCO 0vs USA 0 23:30Ella
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 0vs ROM 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 0vs NAM 0 01:45Sand
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs CAN 0 05:00stadium:mk
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs GEO 0 05:00MilS
SAM 0vs JPN 0 23:30stadium:mk
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SCO 0 01:45St James' Park
ENG 0vs AUS 0 06:00Twic
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 0vs TGA 0 00:30KPS
IRE 0vs ITA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 0vs ROM 0 02:45KPS
FJI 0vs URU 0 06:00stadium:mk
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 0vs USA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
NAM 0vs GEO 0 06:00Sand
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 0vs TGA 0 06:00St James' Park
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 0vs SCO 0 00:30St James' Park
AUS 0vs WAL 0 02:45Twic
ENG 0vs URU 0 06:00Manch
ARG 0vs NAM 0 22:00KPS
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ITA 0vs ROM 0 00:30Sand
FRA 0vs IRE 0 02:45MilS
USA 0vs JPN 0 06:00Kholm
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Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinB 0vs RUpA 0 02:00Twic
WinC 0vs RUpD 0 06:00MilS
WinD 0vs RUpC 0 23:00MilS
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WinA 0vs RUpB 0 02:00Twic
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WQF3 0vs WQF4 0 03:00Twic
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LSF1 0vs LSF2 0 07:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
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