Super Rugby Aotearoa: Late Crusaders surge denies gallant Blues

The Crusaders have fought back to claim a 26-15 victory in a scintillating defensive battle against the Blues in their Super Rugby Aotearoa showdown in Christchurch.

The top of the table clash lived up to all of the hype, as the southerners displayed every inch of their championship calibre and experience to power home through the final quarter against a high-quality Blues side in a titanic duel that reignited one of rugby's oldest rivalries.

Just as the visitors seemed to be on the brink of sealing the contest courtesy of a Rieko Ioane try with just over 20 minutes remaining, a rare charged down conversion by Braydon Ennor sparked the final of several momentum swings.

And the outstanding Richie Mo'unga was at the forefront - regathering the quick restart to burst deep into Blues' territory, then sparking the final two tries to consolidate his side's spot at the top of the Super Rugby Aotearoa standings.

It was a cruel conclusion for the visitors, who were also denied a bonus point in a scoreline that, in many ways, flattered the Crusaders, who didn't take their first lead until the 61st minute.

Again, captain Patrick Tuipulotu and Hoskins Sotutu led the way from the front for the Blues, with wing Mark Telea a constant threat on the outside in tandem with centre Ioane.

The Blues started the better of the two sides, signalling their intent and looking threatening with ball in hand as they strung together some early phases of attack.

Just seven minutes into the contest, Blues phenom Hoskins Sotutu seemed to have scored from an explosive burst off the back of the scrum, carrying defenders with him as he crossed the chalk.

A video review showed a lone hand underneath the ball from Mo'unga, which was enough to deny the visitors first points.

That was, at least, until the next passage of play, when Otere Black flung a pinpoint long pass to find Telea on the right hand touch for the wing to leap into the corner and score the half's only try.

The hosts soon found their rhythm with ball in hand, enjoying the majority of field position and territory for the rest of the half.

But faced with some staunch Blues defence, the Crusaders struggled to breach the advantage line, as Mo'unga's boot and persistent Blues infringements kept them within a point at 7-6.

The intensity lifted in the second stanza, both teams going to work defensively to ensure every metre either way was hard earned.

In the 57th minute, a spilled bomb was contentiously ruled to have come off a Crusaders player to give the Blues a five-metre scrum, which set the scene for Ioane's try.

After the scrum collapsed, Akira Ioane took the quick tap from the penalty only to be stopped inches short. But the ball was swiftly freed to the backs, with Otere Black firing a flat bullet pass to Ioane to tuck the ball away, pump the knees high and bullock his way over the line.

With Black's gift conversion charged, the Crusaders stole back the advantage. Mo'unga's delayed skip pass set George Bridge free down the left flank, Bridge linking with Mitchell Drummond inside to give the hosts their first lead of the game.

A Mo'unga penalty extended that lead and after another relentless period of pressure, the imperious pivot delayed short ball to a stormming Will Jordan to put the nail in the northerners' coffin.

The Blues will take plenty of heart from their efforts, and you can almost guarantee the Sunday afternoon rematch at Eden Park on August 16 will be one of the spectacles of the season. 

Crusaders 26 (Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan tries; Richie Mo’unga 4 pen, 2 con) Blues 15 (Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane tries; Otere Black con, pen). HT: 6-7