Blues dazzle, stun Crusaders at Eden Park
The Blues found the power to connect their electric backs and stun the Crusaders in an absorbing Super Rugby clash at Auckland's Eden Park tonight.
This derby was always going to be about whether the Blues' could find enough dazzle to get past the methodical Crusaders. And so they did.
The 35-24 victory gets the Blues into the competition after last week's disappointing opening loss to the Highlnders in Dunedin.
The Crusaders, for so long the benchmark of the New Zealand at this level, head back to Christchurch pondering consecutive losses.
With their bevy of All Blacks the Crusaders had the match nicely under control at 17-3 just before halftime.
But then they allowed the Blues to get the ball into the hands of their dangerous outside backs and four tries rattled up quickly on either side of the break.
Wings Frank Halai and Tevita Li produced stunning solo efforts to emphasise the danger of the Blues attack.
Young first-five Simon Hickey, backed by good service from Piri Weepu, grew into the game with a very solid debut that included sweet distribution and, crucially, some accurate goalkicking that netted 15 points.
He was at the core as the Blues dazzled a crowd of almost 27,000 on a balmy Auckland evening.
The win will have done plenty for their confidence. It was their first victory since last May and ended a run of seven losses over the two seasons.
The Blues now take on a tough road trip to South Africa where they face a wounded Bulls team at the difficult Loftus Versfeld and newcomers the Lions who have made a surprisingly strong return to the competition.
They will need to get their lineout into gear after it fell apart regularly tonight. But that was their only real problem. They have the backs to do the business on the hard grounds of the high veldt if they can get them the ball.
How the Crusaders respond from here remains to be seen as they to face the Stormers in Christchurch on Saturday.
Richie McCaw was subbed off after an hour and Kieran Read's return couldn't nullify a lively effort from the Blues back row.
The Crusaders even had fortune in one of their three tries when referee Mike Fraser ignored what appeared an obstruction on the Blues defence.
After a sloppy start from both teams the Crusaders broke the deadlock in the 16th minute in bizarre fashion.
Hooker Corey Flynn, lurking on the left touchline, ran in a 40m try which included selling a dummy to confuse Piri Weepu and Charles Piutau who also lacked pace to answer.
Hickey and Taylor traded penalties soon after.
On the half hour the Crusaders used a planned move off a scrum close to the posts to get Slade over for a try, though he looked to be helped by a dummy run from second five Ryan Crotty that took out Blues defender Jackson Willison to provide the big hole.
Down 17-3 the Blues struck back as they had to, finally engineering some space out wide for bight right wing Frank Halai to bamboozle the Crusaders defence.
When big Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu claimed the restart and fed left wing Tevita Li, the youngster showed his mix of power and pace for a stunning try that included swatting off Richie McCaw.
The game was suddenly alive and so was the large crowd as the teams left at halftime with the visitors clinging to a 17-15.
That disappeared soon after the restart when the Crusaders failed to gather in a clever Hickey chip kick and George Moala gathered up the loose ball to dash to the posts.
And the Blues kept chips on the men with a sweet little kick from Weepu into the ingoal pounced on by Willison for the bonus point. Hickey's conversion took the home side out to 29-17
Hickey extended that with a penalty as the Blues stayed on attack, leaving the Crusaders needing to score three times.
They got one when Crotty bustled over as the gritty Blues defence, down to 14 men without the sin-binned Steven Luatua, finally folded.
AT A GLANCE
Blues 35: Frank Halai, Tevita Li, George Moala, Jackson Willison tries; Simon Hickey 3 con, 3 pen.
Crusaders 24: Corey Flynn, Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty tries; Tom Taylor 3 con, pen