Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga scored 28 points in an outstanding individual display to drive the Crusaders to a 43-27 win over the Blues in a Super Rugby Aotearoa clash of test match intensity on Sunday.
A big crowd turned out at Eden Park hoping to see the home side snap a 12-match losing streak against the Crusaders going back to 2014 but the reigning champions took their chances clinically to extend their lead at the top of the standings.
Mo’unga skipped over the line for a try 11 minutes from time but it was his unerring kicking from the tee that proved decisive as he slotted five penalties and converted all four tries.
The Blues scored four tries, three in the second half, but their hopes of snatching a win at the death were dashed when prop Ofa Tuungafasi was sent to the sin bin five minutes from time for an illegal clear-out of Scott Barrett.
The Crusaders retained their 100% record this season to move nine points clear of the previously unbeaten Blues in the standings and remain in the box seat for a 12th Super Rugby title.
“It’s great to win here at Eden Park,” said Crusaders captain Barrett.
“The Blues played some great rugby and tested us up front, it was a real battle there. It was almost like a test match and we had to turn pressure into points.”
With 20 All Blacks on the field, the clash was always going to be intense and the Blues pack tore into the Crusaders from the start, getting some reward for their efforts when flanker Blake Gibson crossed in the 20th minute.
The Crusaders had already scored a try through centre Jack Goodhue, however, and another for hooker Codie Taylor off the back of a rolling maul sent them into the break with a 17-8 lead.
Kurt Eklund crossed twice from close range for the Blues in the second half but Mo’unga kept the scoreboard ticking over from the kicking tee and side-stepped the replacement hooker to add his try in the 69th minute.
Blues number eight Hoskins Sotutu finished off the best move of the match to cut the lead to nine points with eight minutes remaining, but Tuungafasi was shown a yellow card after the ensuing restart.
The Crusaders made the most of the extra man to send winger Sevu Reece in for the fourth try and seal the victory two minutes from time.
“There was a lot of wrongdoing on our side and against the Crusaders you can’t afford to do that,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said.