Crusaders beat Blues to top NZ conference in Super Rugby
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Defending champions the Crusaders likely sealed first place in Super Rugby's New Zealand conference with a 19-11 win over the Auckland-based Blues on Saturday in a local derby.
Both teams scored one try but All Blacks flyhalf Richie Mo'unga kicked 14 points — four penalties and a conversion — to clinch a win which lifted the Crusaders 13 points clear of the Wellington-based Hurricanes, who have a bye this round.
With three matches remaining, the Hurricanes have a maximum of 15 points available to them but that is unlikely to be enough to overtake the Crusaders who have games left against the Rebels and Chiefs.
The Crusaders adapted best to cold and slippery conditions on their home ground, playing for territory and putting pressure on the Blues with kicks behind the defensive line.
A chip kick from Mo'unga set up a try for scrumhalf Bryn Hall in the 20th minute which helped the Crusaders to lead 13-3 after a dominant first half.
The Blues won more possession and territory in the second half and scored a try through winger Rieko Ioane — his ninth of the season — which cut the lead to five points at 16-11 with 10 minutes remaining. But Mo'unga's final penalty restored an eight-point margin and denied the Blues even a bonus point, leaving them bogged in last place in the conference.
"It wasn't pretty at times," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. "We beat the Blues earlier in the year and it was tough and this game was no different."
The match failed to reach any great heights. Long periods of play were consumed with resetting scrums, and handling errors prevented any expansive play. The Blues struggled to exit their own half for long spells and scored too late to challenge the Crusaders' lead.
"I think we can be proud of that effort," Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said. "The Crusaders, full credit to them, kept the pressure on and it was just too little too late in the end."
Earlier, the Melbourne Rebels took full advantage of a match against Japan's Sunwolves to stay within one point of leaders the ACT Brumbies in the Australia conference.
The Brumbies moved six points clear atop the conference table with Friday's 22-10 win over the Bulls but the Rebels restored a one-point margin with a 52-7 win over last-place Sunwolves, outscoring their opponents eight tries to one.
Center Marika Koroibete scored two tries and gave up the chance of a hat trick when he passed to captain Dane Haylett-Perry with the goal line open. Winger Jack Maddocks also scored a double while Jordan Uelese took the Rebels past 50 points with a try after the full time siren.
The Rebels posted their highest score in Super Rugby but at a cost. Wallabies test scrumhalf Will Genia was knocked out and likely will miss next weekend's match against the Waratahs.