The Canterbury Crusaders secured their 13th consecutive Super XV playoffs berth when a dash of Nemani Nadolo brilliance sealed a 21-13 victory over the Auckland Blues at AMI Stadium yesterday.
In a bruising clash between two All Blacks-laden sides, the result was in the balance until the Crusaders lifted the pace of the game several notches for Fiji international Nadolo to score his second try seven minutes from time. With Dan Carter’s conversion it lifted the Crusaders from a narrow 14-13 lead to 21-13 ahead and left the Blues with the near impossible task of having to score twice in the closing minutes.
Having dominated territory for most of the second half, the Blues had no answer to the Crusaders withering closing burst. Not only could they not score again, their hopes of making the playoffs were reduced to a slim mathematical chance.
After an early exchange of penalties between Crusaders flyhalf Colin Slade and the Blues Ihaia West, Nadolo scored the first of his tries when he deftly dotted down in the corner. A second attempt to put Nadolo over a few minutes later went spectacularly wrong when his Blues opposite Frank Halai raced up to take an intercept pass and go 95m to score at the other end. It was to be his last role in the game as he damaged an ankle in the length-of-the-field run and left the field as the Crusaders saw a potential 15-3 lead turn into an 8-10 deficit.
Penalties by Slade and West saw the Blues turn with a 13-11 lead at halftime and although they dominated for long periods of the second half they were unable to breach the Crusaders defense again.
The Crusaders regained the lead by one point when Dan Carter landed a handy penalty with 14 minutes remaining. Carter was then on hand to put Nadolo over for his second try after replacement back Johnny McNicholl had carved through a tiring Blues defense.
Also yesterday, the Western Force beat the Queensland Reds 30-20 in Perth.
The Golden Lions won six matches in a Super 15 rugby season for the first time after defeating the Melbourne Rebels 34-17 at Ellis Park on Friday.
Lions’ flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff had 19 points from five penalties and two conversions.
Left-wing Anthony Volmink, flanker Warwick Tecklenburg and No. 8 and skipper Warren Whiteley scored a try each for the home side. Left-wing Tom English and flanker Colby Fainga’a dotted down for the Rebels and fullback Jack Debreczeni converted both tries and potted a penalty.
Additional reporting by staff writer