Scintillating Blues smash the Crusaders
Chalk another one up to John Kirwan’s baby Blues.
That’s 2-0 in case you weren’t counting, or just a little gobsmacked.
Don’t worry; you’re not alone there.
Kirwan couldn’t have wished for a better return to Eden Park tonight.
In-front of a bumper 31,014 home crowd, the 34-15 bonus-point victory was a step up from last week’s upset of the Hurricanes in Wellington.
While it’s too early to say these rejuvenated Blues are the real deal – there is no doubt Kirwan, Graham Henry and co have modelled a unified, passionate group.
With a storming, gutsy performance, Blues openside Luke Braid epitomised the renewed attitude and determination to win back respect.
Three first half strikes set up their deserved win, one that will send shivers through Crusaders’ supporters already nervous about life without Richie McCaw.
Kieran Read’s official reign sure didn’t start on a promising note.
Five tries to none is ugly stuff.
After their late start, the All Black-laden Crusaders couldn’t get out of first gear. Rust was evident throughout their scrappy work.
The visitor’s dual kicking options – Dan Carter and Tom Taylor – nudged aimlessly, which put their team-mates on the backfoot to repeated waves of Blues’ counterattacks, forcing uncharacteristic errors.
Todd Blackadder’s men spent almost the entire first spell defending.
They didn’t venture into the opposition 22 until the final two minutes of the half. After a week off, the seven-time champions were gasping for breath – struggling with the pace the Blues were intent on playing.
Indeed, it was relentless. Shutting down Francis Saili, Rene Ranger and Charles Piutau in full flight is no easy task.
Signs of the red and black’s supposed new-found attacking enterprise were non-existent. They simply had no ball, no platform, to work from.
Even with Israel Dagg, Carter, Kieran Read, Owen Franks, and Sam Whitelock in their arsenal, five Cater penalties were all they could muster.
Losing All Blacks lock Luke Romano - a physical force at the breakdown and key ball carrying option - to a rib injury in the 17th minute didn’t aid the cause, either.
But there are no excuses at this level. They were totally outplayed.
The Blues were keen to show the naysayers last week’s upset was no aberration.
Through patient, conservative composure, as Piri Weepu picked out big, menacing Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, who crashed over for the first try, and Peter Saili to smash over the advantage line, the AllBlack halfback’s calming experience expertly delivered quality service for Chris Noakes to spark his lethal back-line.
A Saili offload on halfway sparked Frank Halai’s first strike, and it was clear confidence levels were rising when Blues captain Ali Williams turned down a shot at goal, partly due to Weepu’s struggles off the tee. He missed 10 points – not that it mattered.
Noakes justified Williams’ faith with a superbly placed cross-field chip, catching a barley-sighted Dagg out of position on the left wing and handing Halai his fourth try in two games.
There was no let up from Kirwan’s men in the second half. They weren’t presented with the same opportunities but defended their line stoutly.
They’ve only conceded two tries in two games and one was a controversial penalty try in Wellington, though were a tad lucky not to concede a late Israel Dagg try.
Watch this space. These lads will take some beating.
Blues: Steven Luatua, Frank Halai 2, Luke Braid, George Moala tries,
Piri Weepu pen, con, Baden Kerr con
Crusaders: Dan Carter pen 5