Winger Zac Guildford scored two tries, the second a game clincher in the 75th minute, as the Canterbury Crusaders edged the Auckland Blues 23-16 in their Super Rugby match in Timaru yesterday.
The victory for the Crusaders, which extended the Blues’ losing streak to four games, moved them to top of the New Zealand conference on 57 points, before they meet the Hurricanes in Wellington next week in the last round of matches.
The Blues have 56 points and finish the regular season at home to the Otago Highlanders on Friday.
“It was an outstanding game, probably not the most pretty to watch, but both teams really wanted that game,” Crusaders captain Kieran Read said.
While several All Blacks contenders, including Blues lock Ali Williams and inside center Benson Stanley were impressive, coach Graham Henry will be concerned with the injury toll from the bruising encounter.
Crusaders inside center Sonny Bill Williams limped off after 24 minutes with a hip injury, while Blues winger Rene Ranger, who had scored a brilliant individual try, left with a hamstring injury.
The Crusaders had to fight back from an 8-0 deficit following an early Luke McAlister penalty and Ranger’s try that was set up by fullback Jared Payne’s incision into the line and Ranger’s delicate grubber-kick that danced along the sideline.
Flyhalf Daniel Carter got the Crusaders on the board with a penalty, before openside flanker Matt Todd barged over after a speculative kick and chase by the Canterbury side had set up a ruck on the Blues line.
Carter added his second penalty to give the Crusaders a 13-8 lead and the momentum heading into the break, before McAlister added his second penalty to ensure the Blues remained in the hunt at 13-11 at halftime.
The Blues made a schoolboy error straight after the second half kickoff when no one protected the ball at the back of the breakdown, allowing Read to swoop on it and feed to a flying Guildford who dived over in the corner.
However, the Auckland side struck back when prop Charlie Faumuina, who had what appeared to be a legitimate try ruled out by the television official, crashed over shortly after to make it 18-16.
Guildford, who had impressed with his work rate and a try-saving tackle, then sealed the win when he raced on to a brilliant cross kick from Carter to ensure the Crusaders victory.