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Game Review: Blues Dump the Crusaders 52 views 0 Comments
20 February 2011 by deep
Connected with: Wiki Player Benson Stanley, Israel Dagg, Rene Ranger

What a way to start the season... a hot summer day, fans with attitude, a new stadium, home ground, a big comeback and most of all a WIN! (Over the Crusaders what's more.)

Game Day

I've been unusually excited building into the start of the 2011 Super 15 series. There's been talk of the Rugby World Cup for so long it feels as though this event should have already passed by. It's important because we've watched the opportunity of a world beating waterfront stadium come and go, and now I get my first outing at the replacement venue that will host the RWC final, and get to experience what has been achieved with the old suburban relic called Eden Park.

The day starts well, with the sun shining and Auckland turning on pristine conditions for the impending clash between these old foes. I eased into a perfect park not too far from the ground and walk on with anticipation. There's a buzz even outside the ground as over 30,000 fans converge on the arena. The support for my local team is showing strongly, with the guy right in front of me immensely proud of the artwork crafted from a set of locks that his mother was once proud of.

Walking into the new stadium was a surprise, Eden Park has rarely done anything for me, except perhaps embarassment. But today was different. No queues, fast entry, plenty of space and access to multiple stands. The new south stand, while not the towering icon it could be, is certainly impressive.

Game time! So nice to be watching a game in the warmth of a sunny afternoon where the fans are happy, and the players are given the best possible opportunity to show their wares. There's a new air about the place. The stuffy old No 1 stand which was always jammed with stuffy, boring people has come alive. For the first time ever I'm feeling a mild level of genuine atmosphere in the park. It may not be my first choice, but I have to congratulate what has finally been achieved with this ground.

First Half
Dan Carter kicks for goalThe points scoring started with an exchange of penalties and territory evenly all over the park, but then the rot set in. The ref must be wearing red and black undies, becuase all the calls seems to be in one direction, and it's not that of the Blues. There's a slick move on the Crusaders line, and Brett slides through a gaping hole for the opening try. Oh, what's that, the ref called interferance by Afoa running ahead of the ball - no try and penalty to the Crusaders. That was a try fella!

It's a few points all, and a harmless midfield move by the Crusaders ends with Maitland haring after a harmless but well placed grubber from Dagg up the right wing. Meanwhile the 'invisible man' must have subbed-on for the Blues, because there's no-one in behind, suddenly there's open paddocks and the kick looks dangerous. It's OK, as obviously the ball will go into touch, or at least Maitland is. Crap! The ball takes a sharp turn left and bounces up, Maitland skims inside the touch line and there's the first try laid on.

Robbie Fruen up the middleA few minutes later the Crusaders are pushing around the midfield in another harmless foray, until Robbie Fruen sneaks through a gap and races up the middle. We finally nail him but the ball is recycled and quickly moved to the left where several players are making a charge up the wing. Dagg makes some space with his trademark sideways run before darting into a half gap. It's a shambles, fumbling and tripping, but somehow Andy Ellis ends up with ball in hand and over the try line.

Luckily the infallible Carter has missed a couple of kicks, and the blues are only 'well behind' instead of screwed. We've become subdued, but remain optimistically hopeful.

Finally it's the Blues turn. It's all happening at the other end of the park, with repeated attacking inside the Crusaders 22. Brett squeezes a grubber through and this time there's big hash on the Crusaders line. Five different people scramble, fumble, fall and grasp at fresh air as the ball beats them all. It dribbles through and sits alone in-goal soaking up the last of the sun and hoping a few friends will arrive with a few bevvies for a party. Eventually Kaino ambles over and forces the pill to score! Uh oh, the ref wants to put it upstairs for an opinion. Replay after replay after replay after replay afer replay... all the supporters know it's a try... c'mon ref. Decision time.... NO TRY. Ga!

Crusader ready to scrumThe Crusaders are out of jail again, and kick up field. The ball just makes touch, but a quick throw-in gives the opportunity to run it back. This could get exiting as a long floating pass to Ranger is released. The dream comes smashing down as the pass is grassed, and a penalty to the Crusaders ensues on the next play - and 3 more points come for the Red and Blacks. Great, no try for the Blues and a penalty for the Red and Blacks.

We go to half time with that sinking feeling that once again these guys from the south are gonna cruise to victory based the rub of the green, a little support from officials and the occasional bit of solid play. I'd have to say though, that the Blues left a few holes, had made a few very poor unforced errors, and the second line of defence was often found wanting.
Auckland Blues cheerleeders

Second Half
This is a Blues side jammed with current and ex All Blacks, surely they're made of better stuff and can do something in the second half.

They must have been energised by a fine half-time performance from the cheerleaders, as they immediately looked more cohesive and more hungry. This despite a dodgy call claiming Rene Ranger was offside from an up-and-under when he clearly was totally legit! What the hey - 3 more points for the opposition - thanks, man in the red and black undies!

Rene Ranger burns Sean MaitlandThere's a period of general play, when one of the Crusader's backs give the ball a solid nudge well up the left touchline and well inside Blues territory. It doesn't go out, and a couple of long passes see Ranger in big space on the left. He charges forward on those short stumps of his, and shows true class as he leaves Maitland with nose in the grass, then does the same to one of the Whitelock trio, steaming 50 metres up the park. They catch up with Ranger just before he reaches the corner flag, but a crafty in-pass to Benson Stanley sees him in at the corner as he's swamped by cover defenders. Try! This could be the start of our come-back... Brett lines up the kick and.... miss.

More play, and the Blues are applying more regular pressure. They're a different unit this half, and the Crusaders are looking a little rattled. Is this just a phase or can we keep it going for the full 40? They keep the ball in the forwards, phase after phase and they close in on the line. Another burst and yahoo, Woodcock adds to his tally of tries. The normally water-tight defence of the Crusaders has sprung a little leak.

Time is running out and we're still behind. We keep the pressure on and penalty shots come on offer. But tonight Brett couldn't hit the side of a barn from 3 metres out. He's missing everything. Again there's a feeling that we'll let these guys squeeze us out.

Still the pressure keeps coming and I wonder when I last remember a red and black with ball in hand. Suddenly the doors open, we're on the 22 and Brett has 3 guys outside him with a 3 on 1 overlap and try line begging. So instead of a simple pass he makes a horror decision and opts for a kick to the winger... a what!?! The ball races past all his team mates and over the sideline, and the winning try is nowhere to be seen.

Still we keep the heat on and the Crusaders are camped in their own half. Again the forwards apply pressure and there's a slow, rolling rumble as the they systematically drive up the left flank. Suddenly Mealamu pops out on the blindside, running free.  He smashes a defender aside as he powers over the line for what is finally our winning try. We're 2 points ahead, conversion to come and 5 minutes on the clock. Again the kick is missed and there's a dreaded feeling of despair that a rogue penalty will steal the game away.

But still the Blues apply pressure, and once more a penalty comes. Surely this will seal it. Brett's been subbed off after a woeful last 20 minutes and the new guy Lachie Munro is granted the moment to make a name for himself. He does a masterful job at dragging the process as long as is possible and eats up a precious minute, but still is unable to push the Blues beyond the 3 point buffer.

Now the Crusaders have the ball and even while still in their own territory show hints of a dangerous move as they push toward half way. Surely they can't. Then an uncharacteristic unforced knock-on see the Blues regain possession. A couple more hit-ups as 80 minutes approach, then a penalty to the Blues. We kick it out and celebrate a great win on a great day. The only real downside is that we let the Crusaders leave with their bonus as they are flattered by the scoreline. A better reflection of the game would have been 40 - 20 in favour of the Blues.

Wrap Up
in summary, there were some touches of class by emerging players such as Dagg and Benson Stanley. Overall the Blues looked a much better unit than in recent years, achieving a quality balance between raw flair and cohesive graft. It was hard to judge the Crusaders. They showed typical solidity but whether they couldn't crack it because the Blues were too good, or they were a shade off colour is hard to say.

Blues - the winners

Both sides will be worth a watch this year.

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