The Auckland-based Blues sit atop the table as Super Rugby Pacific moves into a new phase of matches between Australian and New Zealand teams.
A 27-23 win over the Crusaders on Saturday lifted the Blues ahead of the ACT Brumbies into first place and ended an 18-year losing streak in Christchurch.
The win gave the Blues cause to hope they may be on course for another title in a multi-national Super Rugby tournament after their victory in Super Rugby trans-Tasman last year. The Blues previously had not won Super Rugby title in any form of the competition since 2003.
Blues head coach Leon MacDonald said the win over the Crusaders is “a big monkey off the back, for sure.
“We’ve come (to Christchurch) with high hopes the last couple of years and walked away after a bit of a hiding. Today, we fronted from the start, we had a really good preparation week, our leaders really stood up and it just felt like we earned the win.
“It was sort of the last thing I really wanted to achieve. We’ve had some good wins against the other teams but the Crusaders are the team I really wanted to get a win against. It is nice, it feels good.”
The Crusaders’ loss dropped them back to fourth place behind the Blues, Brumbies and Reds.
Crusaders head coach Scott Roberston said his team took heart from the fact the Super Rugby title isn’t won in April.
“But what you learn in those months helps you win it. We will remember,” he said.
“It’s a good reminder for us. We will reflect as a coaching group. We get on tour for four games now (and the) Crusaders tour well. It’s a good chance for us to reflect, there’s plenty of the competition left.”
The Australian and New Zealand sections of this year’s tournament each have had two dominant teams: the Brumbies and Queensland Reds in Australia and the Blues and Crusaders in New Zealand. How those teams compare in strength may become evident next weekend when the Brumbies play the Dunedin-based Highlanders, the Reds play the Wellington-based Hurricanes, the Blues play the Fijian Drua and the Crusaders play the Melbourne Rebels.
The Brumbies and Reds are unlikely to be troubled by what they saw in Christchurch on Saturday. While the match was a typically physical New Zealand derby with moments of great skill, the strengths and weaknesses of both teams were exposed.
The Crusaders excelled at set pieces and the Blues couldn’t have confidence in their scrum or lineout. But they still managed to build a 24-10 lead by the early second half, at times exposing gaps in the Crusader’s inside defense.
In a contest between All Blacks flyhalves, Beauden Barrett stood out in the first half for the Blues and Richie Mo’unga was prominent in the second half as the 14-man Crusaders rallied with two tries to winger Sevu Reece.
Once again, the Blues seemed determined to throw away a substantial lead through poor kicking. Nursing a 14-point lead, the Blues reverted to the old-fashioned tactic of plugging the ball deep into their opponent’s half. But the Crusaders were dangerous when they brought the ball out of the backfield and the Blues just held on.
The Reds ended the Australian section of the tournament with an unimpressive 36-32 win over the ninth-placed Melbourne Rebels.
“It was gutsy but we’re making it so hard for ourselves,” Reds captain Tate McDermott said. “We’re going to have to look at ourselves in the mirror coming up against the Kiwis next week.
“From my point of view it’s not good enough. We keep saying we need to be better but we need to deliver.”
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