Brilliant Blues march on
The Blues continued their strong start to the Super Rugby season after seeing off the Crusaders 34-15 at Auckland's Eden Park on Friday.
Last season, the Blues suffered back-to-back defeats in their opening two rounds. This time though, the rejuvenated kiwi outfit have recorded two comprehensive bonus-point wins over tough opposition that keeps them top of the New Zealand conference.
It's not often that the Crusaders are kept tryless in a match, but the Blues did just that whilst showing their old foes how it's done by crossing the whitewash five times.
The Blues got off to a strong start, but it was the Crusaders who were on the scoreboard first courtesy of a Dan Carter penalty.
Five minutes later the Blues were over for the opening try of the match when impressive flank Steven Luatua powered over from close range, though Piri Weepu - who missed four shots at goal - was unable to add the extras.
This allowed the Crusaders to reclaim the lead through another Carter penalty, before the early see-saw battle continued when Weepu found his target with a three-pointer of his own that put the Blues back in front.
It didn't take long for the hosts to open the gap a wee bit further when a superb break-out from Rene Ranger led to winger Frank Halai crossing out wide.
Weepu was once again unable to raise the flags with the ensuing conversion attempt, but it didn't seem to matter when Halai was over in the same corner for his second brace in two weeks after collecting a clever chip from pivot Chris Noakes.
This time Weepu's conversion was successful, which helped the Blues to a commanding 20-6 lead.
With five minutes to go the Crusaders looked dangerously close to scoring a try, but had to settle for another two more penalties from Carter that was enough to keep them in touch with the Blues at half-time (20-12).
The Crusaders started the second half as they ended the first as Carter banged over his fifth penalty of the match in the 45th minute, and all of a sudden the visitors were a converted try away from taking the lead.
However, it would be the last points the seven-time champions would score after the Blues put the game out of sight in the last quarter of the match when flank Luke Braid and wing George Moala touched down for the home side.
First, a bloodied Braid came up with the ball after sustained pressure on the Crusaders line led to prop Charlie Faumuina falling inches short. Last year's skipper simply had to fall on the loose ball and Weepu converted.
Crusaders wing Israel Dagg then came agonisingly close to crossing the whitewash, but the TMO ruled that he had been guilty of a double movement - which certainly appeared to be the wrong call from the man upstairs.
Luckily for the Blues, the TMO didn't need to be called into play when Moala raced 60m after collecting a chip ahead from replacement pivot Baden Kerr, who also rubbed further salt into the Crusaders' wounds by adding the conversion from far out.
Game, set and match.
Tries: Luatua, Halai 2, Braid, Moala
Cons: Weepu 2, Kerr
Pens: Carter 5
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven , 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Bryn Hall, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Tom Marshall.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)