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Another New Zealand derby went down to the wire as the Crusaders yet again showed why they are the defending champions, securing a tight win over the Blues.
The hosts had a chance to pinch the points at the death but a Harry Plummer’s penalty attempt went wide, and the Blues yet again fall short.
The Crusaders were also awarded two penalty tries tonight. Another frustrating loss for the Blues against a team that always finds a way to win.
After another disappointing campaign last year, the Blues will look to start their Super Rugby campaign on a high when they host defending champions the Crusaders at Eden Park. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match from 5:35pm AEST.
Talk about a battle of contrasts. The Blues have underperformed severely over the past few seasons and will be hoping to improve their form to yet again secure a playoff birth.
The Crusaders on the other hand are the very definition of success. They are two-time defending champions and remain the most successful team in Super Rugby history. It is little wonder why they remain the team to beat yet again this year.
New Blues head coach Leon MacDonald has wasted no time recalling Ma’a Nonu, naming the All Blacks legend to start upon his return to Super Rugby against defending champs, the Crusaders.
After three seasons in France with Toulon, the two-time World Cup winner shocked many by announcing he was returning to Super Rugby in a bid to win a three-peat.
Interesting, though, Nonu, who started both the successful 2011 and 2015 World Cup campaigns in the No.12 jersey, will play in the less familiar position of outside centre with TJ Faiane preferred at inside centre.
Nonu’s All Blacks teammate, Sonny Bill Williams, will come off the bench after being unavailable for the pre-season under national player restrictions.
MacDonald has named a strong starting lineup featuring current All Blacks Rieko Ioane, Patrick Tuipulotu and Dalton Papalii, with props Ofa Tu’ungafasi and new signing Karl Tu’inukuafe joining Williams on the bench.
Elsewhere, Michael Collins has been named at fullback with talented outside back Melani Nanai named on the right-wing.
Otere Black will start at fly-half for the Blues after missing the entire 2018 season because of a knee injury.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders have named a strong side featuring 13 All Blacks, including 10 in the starting side.
With regular captain Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Codie Taylor being on extended leave, Matt Todd captains the Crusaders.
Test outside centre Jack Goodhue has been ruled out with a tight groin, but is expected to be fit for their next match.
Elsewhere, Bryn Hall and All Black Richie Mo’unga form the Crusaders’ halves pairing, while Test backs Ryan Crotty (inside centre), George Bridge (left wing) and David Havili (fullback) have all been named to start.
Up front, Andrew Makalio starts at hooker between experienced international pair Joe Moody and Owen Franks.
Test lock Scott Barrett forms a second-row pairing alongside Quinten Strange, while Jordan Taufua and Whetukamoamo Douglas form a back-row combination with Todd.
The Crusaders are the superpower of Super Rugby at the moment. With 13 All Blacks in the squad, it will take a special effort from the Blues to cause the upset here, even at home.
While it isn’t beyond them, it remains to be seen if the Blues possess the ability to knuckle down and get into an arm wrestle against a team that loves a good battle.
The Blues have the flair, but the Crusaders have it all, and odds are that this will show tonight yet again.
Crusaders by 14
Michael Collins, Melani Nanai, Ma’a Nonu, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Otere Black, Jonathan Ruru; Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Sione Mafileo, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman
Reserves: Matt Moulds, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Matt Matich, Augustine Pulu, Harry Plummer, Sonny Bill Williams
David Havili, Manasa Mataele, Braydon Ennor, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Matt Todd (c), Jordan Taufua, Quinten Strange, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody
Reserves: Ben Funnell, Tim Perry, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Will Jordan
Time: 5:35pm AEST
Venue: Eden Park
Betting: Blues $3.20, Crusaders $1.35