The Crusaders cemented their place on top of the Super Rugby Aotearoa log for at least one more week as they battled to a 26-15 victory over the Blues on a bitterly cold night in Christchurch.
The 11 point difference at full time is a somewhat flattering scoreline for the Super Rugby champions who were well and truly tested by the Blues and needed a Richie Mo'unga masterclass to see them home.
Super Rugby Aotearoa could well be decided in the reverse fixture next month but for now, it is the Crusaders who hold a six-point lead over their rivals.
The Blues looked set to end a 6-year drought against their rivals and 16 year drought in Christchurch as they surged 7-0 lead through form winger Mark Telea who dotted down following a strong scrum, an even better carry from Hoskin Sotutu and an excellent skip pass by Otere Black as he dived over the line with the ball in one hand out wide.
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A gripping first half saw just one try as Mo'unga's boot kept the Crusaders in the game as they trailed by just a point at the break with the Blues leading 6-7.
Otere Black and Mo'unga traded slots at goal early in the second before the Blues struck again.
A contentious call from referee Paul Williams saw the Blues being awarded a scrum in the Crusaders' 22 with the Blues' pack earning a penalty which they took quickly. From there an excellent line from Rieko Ioane saw the All Black smash over the line.
Otere Black lined up the simple conversion, for his standards, to stretch the lead to a converted try but Crusaders' centre Braydon Ennor had other ideas. The Crusaders' man charged down Black's kick and the Crusaders reacted quickly with Richie Mo'unga taking the kick off quickly.
From there Richie Mo’unga caught the Blues napping from the restart as he took it quickly and regathered it for himself. The Blues managed to turn over the ball and clear but the damage had been done and the momentum had swung as Richie Mo'unga's double-pump pass to George Bridge saw Mitchell Drummond cruise through for a try with Mo'unga adding the extras and another penalty from the tee.
Up 16-15 with 18 minutes to play, the Crusaders, as they so often do, simply turned the screw and finished over the top of their opponents. Form man Will Jordan, having not long returned from a head injury assessment, iced the win in the 75th minute, when he ran in the home side’s second try on the back of a sustained spell inside the Blues’ 22.
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