Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Crusaders end Blues' season

Israel Dagg of the Crusaders makes a break during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Blues at AMI Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.
Israel Dagg of the Crusaders makes a break during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Blues at AMI Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.

Crusaders 21
Blues 13

The agony of defeat and their season ending with it will be hard enough for the Blues to deal with tomorrow morning.

They don't need, then, to torture themselves more by wondering how it was they didn't win in Christchurch for the first time in 10 years when they dominated the game - all facets - for such long periods.

They can maybe pretend it was all down to the brilliance of one Daniel Carter pass. The old maestro was the difference - his ability to scoop his arms around the corner with eight minutes remaining to feed the bullocking Nemani Nadolo won the Crusaders the day.

But that wouldn't be the story of the night at all. The real story was that the Blues played well, very well, but didn't land the killer blow when they needed to.

Yes, the Crusaders offered an impressive defensive wall but, still, the Blues had possession and territory enough to have inflicted the damage and keep their season alive.

It was the little things that tripped them up in the end. Attention to detail is everything on these tense occasions, and it was intense.

There was little doubt that finals football had come early. The pace was frenetic and the tackling had bite. The cleanout from both teams was ferocious - barely a split second would pass before the scrap for the ball was full on.

And the Blues won much of those contests. They had dominance in the physical exchanges, apart from the scrums. But there at least they had a friend in referee Glen Jackson.

They could exert pressure but couldn't score points. It was a tough lesson to learn but learn it they will have to.

Other than a couple of maddening, low-return kicks near the Crusaders' line, the Blues got their game plan bang on.

They attacked around the breakdown with the legion of ball carriers they now have. It wasn't just one pass, thump-recycle, either. There was some neat off-loading and conscious decision-making to keep the ball-carrier up and set up the driving maul.

And it all made perfect sense. Who really enjoys having to tackle Jerome Kaino? Or Steven Luatua? Or Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu and Keven Mealamu? Luke Braid was another willing runner and, although he's not in that same oversized category as the others, he twists and bumps and clocks impressive metres.

Defensively, they held their shape and nerve. The Crusaders used Carter's playmaking to bring Israel Dagg into play and he took the space outside Pita Ahki.

The thing was, though, Dagg wasn't the strike running threat. He was being used to stretch the defence and get the ball into the hands of Nemani Nadolo. It's taken the Fijian a bit of time to find his feet in Super Rugby, but he's definitely come good for the Crusaders.

There are some big wings in the world game - Julian Savea, George North, Alex Cuthbert, Tim Visser - but Nadolo is the daddy. He clattered down his flank a few times early in the game collecting Blues defenders on the way.

One of those was Frank Halai who, at 1.95m and 110kg, looked waif-like in comparison.Much of the Crusaders' planning and execution was smart enough - attack right to one touchline and then come left to get the ball to Nadolo in space.

And as the Blues discovered, with space, Nadolo is deadly.He did what the Blues couldn't - convert those half-chances.

Crusaders 21 (N. Nadolo 2 tries; C. Slade 2 pens; D. Carter pen, con) Blues 13 (F. Halai tries; I. West con, 2 pens). HT: 11-13.

- Herald on Sunday

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