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Courtesy of theblues.co.nz
That’s all that came between the Blues and a famous victory at Eden Park on Friday night as the Crusaders held on to win 19-18 in an enthralling season opener.
With time up on the clock and the Blues trailing by a point, new Blues recruit Piri Weepu stepped up to slot a last minute drop goal to clinch the win.
The replacement had come on to rapturous applause from the 31,000 strong Eden Park crowd 20 minutes prior, but he was unable to replicate his World Cup heroics as a lunging Israel Dagg hand got just enough on the ball to ensure it sailed to the right of the posts.
It was heartbreak for Weepu and his new teammates who came so close to defeating last year’s finalists in what was a fiercely contested and bruising encounter.
The Super Rugby opener lived up to its blockbuster billing as both teams threw everything at the other, but ultimately the Blues paid the price for a lack of discipline at crucial times, and despite outscoring the Crusaders by two tries to one, rookie first five-eighths Tyler Bleyendaal slotted four penalties to give his side the edge.
It was a game of contrasting styles as the Blues produced their typical razzle dazzle and flair, typified none more so than by centre Rene Ranger who was a constant threat and made some barnstorming runs.
With Ranger, Rudi Wulf and Isaia Toeava combining, the Blues carved up the Crusaders defence with ease early on, but a number of dropped balls and misdirected passes proved incredibly costly.
A malfunctioning lineout also put a dent in the Blues’ momentum as they struggled to hit their targets, gifting the ball back to the Crusaders in prime attacking positions.
In contrast the Red and Blacks looked nowhere near as threatening as the Blues with ball in hand, and instead relied on their trademark structures and systems, keeping the ball in tight through Kieran Read and co and working themselves into good areas of the field.
The Blues got off to a flying start and scored two tries within the first 10 minutes to blitz the Crusaders.
A charged down kick by Israel Dagg resulted in a try to flanker Chris Lowrey, before Fijian flyer David Raikuna picked up where Joe Rokocoko left off, dotting down in the corner on debut following some quick hands by the backs.
In his the absence of Dan Carter, rookie first five-eighths Tyler Bleyendaal made his Crusaders debut and had a competent game, slotting two penalty goals to narrow his side’s deficit to 12-6.
Robbie Fruean then cut inside two Blues defenders five minutes later to dive over the try line, and a further conversion and penalty by Bleyendaal saw the Crusaders stretch out to a 16-12 halftime lead.
The Blues hit back immediately in the second half, with Rene Ranger and Ali Williams combining to send Rudi Wulf screaming down the touchline.
He couldn’t quite make it to the try line, but from a resulting penalty Hobbs landed the kick to narrow the gap before pushing the home side ahead with another three pointer after 56 minutes.
In a tense final quarter, the Crusaders began applying pressure to the Blues defence and found a few cracks, with only a superb tackle by Isaia Toeava denying Israel Dagg a certain try.
But when Chris Pollock pinged the Blues for being offside, Bleyendaal made up for his earlier missed kick to retain the lead, and despite a last gasp effort from Piri Weepu, the visitors held on to scrape home 19-18.
The Blues now face the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday night.