Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders put squeeze on disjointed Blues

The Crusaders celebrate Richie Mo'unga's game sealing try. Photo / Getty
The Crusaders celebrate Richie Mo'unga's game sealing try. Photo / Getty

Crusaders 28
Blues 13

A disjointed, mistake-ridden performance from the Blues has resulted in defeat to the Crusaders, and attention will inevitably focus on coach Tana Umaga's decision to bench his playmakers Bryn Hall and Ihaia West.

Would they have made much of a difference if they had started instead of rookies Billy Guyton and Matt McGahan against a Crusaders pack breathing fire after last week's loss to the Chiefs at home?

Possibly. Certainly, they would have added more direction to a backline which also included the inexperienced Matt Duffie at fullback.

At one stage in the first half at AMI Stadium, Duffie received the ball under pressure on defence and sent out a panicky forward pass which served to put his team in more strife via a scrum.

As it happened: Crusaders v Blues

It was typical of the pressure his side was put under and the mistakes the visitors were making. Again, however, the Crusaders struggled to translate that into points until late in the game, a concern for coach Todd Blackadder who will be sweating on the returns of Ryan Crotty, Robbie Fruean and Israel Dagg.

The Blues performed well at set piece last week but they couldn't handle the Crusaders' blow torch. A penalty try for a collapsed scrum was good reward for the home team. But, after 26 minutes and another Richie Mo'unga penalty, they couldn't score again despite the fact that the Blues simply could not get into the home team's 22m area.

Possession and territory percentages overwhelmingly favoured the Crusaders, who struggled a bit in attack and only really caught fire there late in the match when 130kg wing Nemani Nadolo sent Duffie into orbit and Kieran Read went over for the try which pushed the scoreline out to 21-6 and calmed the home supporters' nerves.

Tevita Li's converted try with five and a half minutes remaining gave the Blues some hope, but it was too late. They showed heart with their defence and some of their forward exchanges, but were outclassed up front and lacked any sort of direction in the backline, the momentum of last weekend's victory over the defending champion Highlanders well and truly lost.

The Crusaders can be vulnerable when they fail to kill teams off, but apart from Li's try down the left side few of the Blues' players threatened. Even Rene Ranger at centre was kept in check.

Hall and West were introduced 10 minutes after the break, and struggled to get into the match. One of the best replacements for Umaga was prop Charlie Faumuina, who strengthened the Blues' scrum considerably.

Where to from here for Umaga? His team play the Hurricanes at Eden Park next, and he is unlikely to start Guyton and McGahan, who before the Crusaders match had never started a game at this level.

The incumbents Hall and West will likely get the nod and hopefully for them they can regain the flow they found at their home on opening night. Guyton and McGahan must be seen as impact players on this evidence.

The Blues' search for their first away win since July 2014, and their first win in Christchurch since 2004, continues and it's difficult to escape the feeling that this was an opportunity wasted.

- NZ Herald

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