Blues stun Crusaders in Auckland
February 28, 2014
The Blues dominated possession early and were too strong for the Crusaders
© Getty Images
Benji Marshall sat on the bench for the entire match as the Blues downed the Crusaders 35-24 in the Super Rugby clash in Auckland on Friday. The much-hyped rugby league convert looked on as 20-year-old Blues five-eighth and debutant Simon Hickey steered the Auckland-based franchise to an impressive comeback victory with 15 points off the boot.
Hickey, a surprise choice at No.10, showed some nice touches and landed six of his seven shots at goal, including three penalties. Blues coach John Kirwan axed five-eighth Chris Noakes following last week's loss to the Highlanders and it was thought former NRL star Marshall would get a crack at No.10.
But Marshall was merely a spectator as the Blues produced a scoring blitz either side of half-time to secure a remarkable come-from-behind win.
"A few players had individual moments of brilliance and it was awesome to get the momentum... we tried to catch the Crusaders off guard," Hickey said.
The Crusaders appeared to be racing away with the game when they pulled out to a 17-3 lead midway through the opening spell.
But the Blues turned the match on its head with four tries in 13 minutes. The result at Eden Park means the Crusaders have started the season with two straight defeats. And they could have long-term problems if their concerns around Richie McCaw prove true.
He was taken off at half-time after uncharacteristically missing tackles in the Blues' first two tries.
"Richie may have fractured a thumb. He'll have to go to hospital for checks," a dejected Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder lamented.
Crusaders captain Kieran Read said his players failed to maintain their intensity after a good start. "You've got to keep your foot on the throat when you're up 17-3," he said. "The Blues are a quality side and if you give them opportunities they'll take them."
For the Blues, it was a spectacular way to end to a seven-game losing run going back to last May.
There was plenty of encouragement in the performance of their young brigade, with debutant first five-eighth Simon Hickey, lock Patrick Tuipulotu and winger Tevita Li all contributing. The Blues made the early running but their repeated failure to secure their own line-out ball meant they couldn't capitalise.
They then saw the opposition score from their first real incursion, hooker Corey Flynn displaying a winger's skills to dot down in the corner. While that try came off a counter-attack, it was traditional Crusaders' patience that produced the second touchdown to fullback was Colin Slade. Seven minutes from halftime the Blues flicked the switch.
Firstly, a great turnover by lock Tom Donnelly was finished off by winger Frank Halai. Then the Blues other lock, Tuipulotu, snared the kick-off and sent the other winger, 18-year-old Li, away to the tryline to close the gap to two points at the break.
A minute after the restart, the home side went ahead for the first time, when the Crusaders couldn't clean up a Hickey kick-ahead and centre George Moala grabbed the loose ball to score.
The Blues proved too good for the Crusaders, scoring four tries in thirteen minutes (video available in Australia only)
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards
They came to Murrayfield looking to put down a marker, but Scotland were sent home with their tails between their legs, writes Tristan Barclay
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland