All Blacks flyhalf Richie Mo’unga scored a try among 28 points Sunday as defending champions the Crusaders beat the Auckland-based Blues 43-27 in a match between unbeaten teams in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Mo’unga added to his try with five penalties and four conversions as the Christchurch-based Crusaders repelled a strong challenge from the Blues to move clear atop the table in the New Zealand domestic competition.
The Crusaders led 17-8 after a tight first half and stretched that lead in the face of a strong Blues’ challenge in the second spell.
Mo’unga’s boot was instrumental in keeping the Crusaders ahead after halftime, as the Blues challenged their lead with tries to Kurt Ecklund and Hoskins Sotutu.
As a match between unbeaten teams and involving the best players in New Zealand, Sunday’s match became a “state of the union” assessment of the current state of All Blacks rugby.
While the All Blacks won the Tri Nations tournament and the Bledisloe Cup last year, they had a poor season, losing to 10th-ranked Argentina and sixth-ranked Austalia.
Sunday’s match saw eight tries scored and was close until the 77th minute when a try by the Crusaders’ All Blacks winger Sevu Reece put the result beyond doubt, but quality was lacking.
That was in keeping with the poor standard of Super Rugby Aotearoa this season when defenses have been generally absent or disorganized and matches have been loose and lacking structure.
The timing of Sunday’s match at Eden Park allowed comparison with the critical late matches in the Six Nations championship. The comparison was unfavorable.
The standard of forward play in the New Zealand competition has been especially low and this pattern continued in Sunday’s match which featured the nucleus of the current All Blacks’ tight five, the props Joe Moody and Ofa Tu’ingafasi, locks Sam Whitelock and Patrick Tuipulotu, hooker Codie Taylor who recently ceded his first team place to Dane Coles.
Despite Mo’unga’s role, playmaking was also lacking. Option-tacking on both sides and steady game controlling was missing from both the No. 10s on show Sunday.
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