Crusaders beat Blues to keep playoff hopes alive in Super Rugby. Reds, Moana Pasifika also win

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — The defending champion Crusaders kept their playoff chances alive with the upset of the season Saturday, beating the Auckland-based Blues 29-27 in Super Rugby Pacific.

The Crusaders came into the match with only two wins from 12 games, in 11th place on the 12-team table. The Blues had lost only once and were trying to return to the top with one round left in the regular season.

But after a woeful campaign by the 12-time champion Crusaders — the worst in their history — they finally produced a performance reminiscent of the past. The win could lift them as high as ninth, within reach of the top-eight playoff zone, ahead of their last regular-season match against Moana Pasifika.

“I think (a performance like this) has been there but we haven’t capitalized on opportunities,” said captain Codie Taylor, who spent much of a physical match bloodied from a head gash.

“It was a massive week for us. We knew what we were up against with the Blues, a real class side. You could see they deserve to be where they are. But there was a lot of chat about the boys who have been before us and what this meant to them, and it was good to get a result.”

The match was close but for a period between the 22nd and 35th minutes when Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi scored two tries to give his team a 15-7 lead.

But the Crusaders scored a vital try through winger Chay Fihaki right on halftime and cut the deficit at the break to three points.

That set up a thrilling second half in which the Crusaders captured the lead for the first time in more than 40 minutes after a try by scrumhalf Noah Hotham. That gave them a 26-22 advantage which became 29-22 after a penalty from Fihaki in the 67th.

The Blues rallied with a try by winger A.J. Lam but flyhalf Harry Plummer missed the sideline conversion and the Crusaders clung to their two-point margin to the joy of a capacity crowd.

“It was pretty tough, a hard one for us,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said. “We were confident going into the second half, especially with momentum. Throughout the whole game there was a lot of ill-discipline and that was disappointing for us.”

The loss sends a playoff warning to the Blues, who looked formidable while building an 11-1 record. While they looked solid in the first half, they lost their shape and patience in the second. They were best when they stacked together phases but, as tension built, they played more individually and the Crusaders capitalized.

In Brisbane, the Queensland Reds consolidated their fifth-place position with a 59-13 win over the Western Force. In Auckland, Moana Pasifika beat the New South Wales Waratahs 27-12 in their last home match of the season.

It was an emotional occasion for Moana Pasifika, who will farewell three stalwarts when the regular season ends next weekend. Former Wallabies Sekope Kepu and Christian Leali’ifano and foundation captain Solomone Funaki all are retiring, and were joined on the field by their families before the match.

The emotion was heightened because Kepu scored a try, his first for Moana Pasifika and sixth in 162 matches in Super Rugby.

Moana Pasifika also showed off a rising star, fullback Kyren Taumoefolau, who scored their first try and had a hand in their second, the first of a double by Folau Inisi.

After leading 14-0 at halftime, Inisi scored his second try from the restart and Kepu’s try made the lead 27-0.

The Waratahs rallied with tries from Langi Gleeson and Izaia Perese.


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