Struggling Crusaders, Blues to meet in Super Rugby Pacific

Wed, Mar 15, 2023
Other News (AP)

Struggling Crusaders, Blues to meet in Super Rugby Pacific

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - The Christchurch-based Crusaders and Auckland-based Blues meet Saturday in what should be one of the marquee matches of the Super Rugby Pacific season - a repeat of last year's final.

But the match-up comes in the only the fourth round of season and at a point in which both teams already have lost matches. For that reason it may lack the impact or importance it usually would carry. Neither team is performing at its best.

The Crusaders lost in the first round to the Hamilton-based Chiefs and last weekend to the Fijian Drua in one of the largest upsets in Super Rugby history. That defeat has dropped them to eighth place in the 12-team competition.

The Blues lost in the second round to the ACT Brumbies who, with the Chiefs, remain the only unbeaten teams in the competition. Last weekend the Blues held on to beat the Wellington-based Hurricanes when a good first half gave way to a poor second-half performance.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald remains confident his team is improving week by week and is ready to meet the defending champion Crusaders.

"We're in round (four) and as long as we continue to get better, you've got to be happy," MacDonald told the Stuff news website. "We have to be better against the Crusaders.

"I think we were better (against the Hurricanes) than we were against the Brumbies in a lot of areas. Getting our kicking balance is going to be really important this week as well."

Saturday's match at Auckland's Eden Park might be held up as a quasi All Blacks trial for this year's World Cup. However, the All Blacks selectors likely have most of their squad inked in.

The clash of All Blacks flyhalves Beauden Barrett for the Blues and Richie Mo'unga for the Crusaders also will be highlighted, though both are also playing below their best form.

Barrett's play, especially his kicking game, has been seen as predictable and MacDonald has acknowledged the Blues generally are not kicking well.

"In the first half (against the Hurricanes, Barrett) kicked really well, applied pressure and we had good control of the game," MacDonald said. "In the second half across the board our game drivers didn't kick as accurately and we felt under pressure. We weren't getting quality ball . . . so a lot of the second-half kicks weren't the type he'd be wanting to make."

The Crusaders' loss to the Drua in Lautoka breathed life into a tournament which was losing interest because it had become predictable. News of the result excited rugby fans around the world who felt the Crusaders got their just desserts for picking an under-strength team.

Pictures of fans clinging to the branches of a tree outside Lautoka's Churchill Park to see the match without paying went viral on social media.

The Crusaders now are 1-2 after three rounds and have to beat the Blues to get their season back on track.

Drua coach Mick Byrne said his players had to quickly put aside the joy of last weekend's win to prepare for Sunday's match against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

"We're three matches into a season, we've won two games late and nothing's changed from our goals. We want to play finals footy this year," Byrne said.

The Chiefs will face the Melbourne Rebels and the Brumbies will play Moana Pasifika, both on Saturday, in an effort to keep their perfect records intact.

Elsewhere, the Hurricanes host the New South Wales Waratahs at Wellington on Friday to open the round. Also the Highlanders host the Western Force in New Zealand's southern-most city, Invercargill, on Sunday.


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