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Crusaders stun Blues, stay alive for playoffs


The Crusaders inexplicably remain alive for the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs after springing the upset of the season.


The defending champions' forwards dominated as they held off the front-running Blues 29-27 at Christchurch's Apollo Projects Stadium on Saturday night in the penultimate round of the regular season.


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The victory lifted the Crusaders (3-0-10) level with the Western Force on 19 points, just two behind the Fijian Drua in the eighth and final postseason spot, and four points behind the seventh-placed Highlanders.


Rob Penney's side will need to beat Moana Pasifika in their Round 15 clash and have other results go their way to earn an unlikely playoff berth with a record still well below .500.


In a season of struggle, the 12-time champions produced a performance reminiscent of the past, securing their 13th win over the Blues in their last 14 meetings in the Garden City, and 32nd in 45 matches all-time.


The Blues failed to go clear of the Hurricanes at the top of the standings, but the losing bonus point allowed them to reclaim the top spot on points difference.


Christian Lio-Willie Crusaders rugby
Christian Lio-Willie's try got the Crusaders back into the match. PHOTO: SUPER RUGBY

Harry Plummer gave the Blues an early lead with a penalty but the Crusaders responded with a try to All Blacks flanker Ethan Blackadder, who forced his way over with a run close to the line in the 20th minute.


The Blues hit back and took the lead with a brace from newly-re-signed prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi. The first, in the 22nd minute, he dived over from the base of a rack, and the second, in the 35th minute, he took an Akira Ioane offload to score after Plummer broke through the Crusaders line.


The Crusaders closed the gap in the shadow of halftime when hooker Codie Taylor took a penalty quick-tap and sent Chay Fihaki over in the right corner.


The Blues lost Stephen Perofeta to a yellow card for a deliberate knock-down in the 46th minute but they extended their lead while a man-down with wing AJ Lam's first try.



With Perofeta still off the field, No 8 Christian Lio-Willie got the Crusaders back in it, catching a Fergus Burke cross-field kick for an easy try. Later, halfback Noah Hotham finished off a Johnny McNicholl line-break to give the Crusaders the lead, then Fihaki extended it to seven with a 66th-minute penalty.


Lam scored his second in the 72nd minute to close the gap but Plummer missed the conversion to tie it up, then later crucially missed touch from an attacking penalty to let the Crusaders off the hook.


To conclude the SRP regular season, the Crusaders host Moana Pasifika on Friday night (kick-off 7.05pm), while the Blues host the Chiefs at Eden Park in an intriguing top-four clash the following night (kick-off 7.05pm).


Crusaders 29 (Ethan Blackadder, Chay Fihaki, Christian Lio-Willie, Noah Hotham tries; Fergus Burke con, Chay Fihaki 2 con, pen) Blues 27 (Ofa Tu’ungafasi tries 2, AJ Lam 2 tries; Harry Plummer 2 con, pen). HT: 12-15

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