A brace of tries by Fijian powerhouse winger Nemani Nadolo were enough to let the Crusaders win a tense Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Blues 21-13 in Christchurch on Saturday.
Nadolo scored in either half – the second try being the one that settled matters as both sides battled to give themselves a chance of qualification for the playoff rounds.
The Crusaders win moved them into second place temporarily ahead of the Cell C Sharks, although the latter can leapfrog them later in the day when they face the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
The win kept up a 10-year winning streak for the Crusaders over the Blues in Christchurch and was not good news for the Vodacom Bulls, who are hoping to sneak into the playoffs via the back door.
But whereas most New Zealand derbies are open and entertaining, this turned into an arm wrestle as both sides made too many mistakes, aware of the consequences of losing the game.
The match also signalled the return of All Black kingpin Dan Carter, who had a more than satisfactory return to action, and needs game time to return to his best.
But in terms of a spectacle, the two big hitting New Zealand franchises provided little as it turned into a dogfight for survival.
After opening penalties, it was the Crusaders who hit back first, taking the ball through several phases before the big Nadolo got the ball and slid with inches to spare in the corner in a try that had to be confirmed by the television match official.
However, it didn’t take long for the Blues to hit back – as winger Frank Halai went for a suicide interception on his own tryling which worked, taking the ball under the noses of three Crusaders players to sprint the length of the field and complete a 14-point turnaround.
Given that both teams were desperate to win, and knew each other so well, it wasn’t surprising that the scoreboard ticked over slowly, with Colin Slade putting over his second to extend the lead for the home side before Ihaia West added one for the Blues to lead 13-11 into the break.
The second half was a disappointing affair, with both sides turning over the ball too much and making handling errors.
But when it mattered the Crusaders broke out of their own half after soaking up so much pressure, and took the ball into the Blues 22m line. When Nadolo got the ball from Ryan Crotty he was too close to be stopped and the game was over.
Carter added a late penalty to ensure the Blues didn’t get a bonus point, but considering the history of games between these two sides, this one won’t go down as a classic.
Tries: Nemani Nadolo (2). Conversion: Dan Carter. Penalties: Colin Slade (2), Carter.
Try: Frank Halai. Conversion: Ihaia West. Penalties: West (2).