Wow. That was one heck of a game. After a stunning early lead, the Blues gave the Crusaders a change to make multiple lead changes, before some tension near the end of the first half lead to a 21-24 half-time deficit. Opting to go more downtempo in the second-half, the Blues made several charges at the tryline with their forward pack, only to fall valiantly short by 28-34 at full-time, courtesy of a Sam Whitelock turnover.
There are so many positives, but also a couple negatives for the Blues in that performance. Let's read through the team from jersey number 1 through to number 23, to see how each player rated.
BLUES PLAYER RATINGS
Tom Robinson (pictured in 2021) was strong off the bench for the Blues. Photo: Max Sharp.
Loosehead Prop - Alex Hodgman (No rating)
The 4-test All Black's injury-ridden career just took the cruelest possible blow. Fresh off another injury layoff, Hodgman departed after just 1 tackle and 13 minutes, with what appears to be a broken shoulder bone. Get well soon mate.
Hooker - Ricky Riccitelli (6/10)
Provided some real grunt in the tight spaces with his low centre of gravity, with 17 metres, 1 defender beaten and 6 carries. Threw well in the lineout. Riccitelli's tackle accuracy though, will not have impressed the coaches; 8/15 was his total.
Tighthead Prop - James Lay (6/10)
Got amongst it early on with 3 metres off 3 carries, generating some real front foot ball, while he also looked good in the scrum. Only got to share the pitch with his older brother Jordan for two minutes though, being subbed off with an injury in the 14th minute.
Lock 4 - James Tucker (8/10)
Colossal effort from the titanic ruck clearer, who enabled much of the early front-foot ball. Ran the lineout calls well, scored 1 try, ran 15 metres and beat 1 defender from 7 carries, while completing a team-high 18/21 tackles. Captain for when Papali'i is on All Blacks rest?
Lock 5 - Cameron Suafoa (6/10)
The big utility forward has enjoyed his time at lock, though this one would have been frustrating due to being on and off the pitch as a result of cards. Achieved a tackle total of 11/11 in a solid shift.
Blindside Flanker - Adrian Choat (7/10)
Although the use of two opensides compromised two lineouts for the Blues, Choat had a field day on defence with 17/18 tackles and has the battle scars to show it. Good attacking with 16 metres from 9 carries. Is very much looking the finished product.
Openside Flanker - Dalton Papali'i (7/10)
May not have repeated the heroics of his 2022 effort, but still gave an early "follow me" message as captain. Achieved what he wanted on attack with 36 metres and 1 defender beaten off 6 carries, while putting in hard yards with 12/13 tackles. Could have contested the breakdown more.
Number 8 - Hoskins Sotutu (9/10)
Knocked on what would have been the winning try under advantage but was otherwise flawless. Sotutu put in a true all-rounder for 118 metres, 5 defenders beaten, 2 clean breaks, 19 carries, 8 passes, 4 offloads and 8/9 tackles. The stats tell the story of a genuine workhorse. His place at the World Cup is certain.
Halfback - Finlay Christie (7/10)
Was dealt some tough counterrucking by the Crusaders so did well to provide such clean ball. Had a few snipes worth 11 metres of gainline crossing and looked well-synchronised with his forward pack, particularly Sotutu. 5/7 tackles on defence.
First-Five - Beauden Barrett (6/10)
Took the tee for himself in this game, to bring his season total to 43 points with 4/4 conversions. Perfect tackle accuracy with 3/3 and ran 44 metres from 7 carries. The Blues' failure to vary their game though, was ultimately the difference, with Barrett just popping up here and there aside from his individual efforts.
Left Wing - Caleb Clarke (9/10)
Clarke needed to make significant improvement to his performance under the high ball during the off-season, and it seems to have paid off. His efforts resulted in 1 try, 119 metres, 1 defender beaten, 3 clean breaks, 10 carries, 4 passes, 2/3 tackles and 1 turnover won. One of the standout performers on the night.
Second-Five - Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (3/10)
A shocker. 3 of his carries were just straight up the guts and while his linebreak asserted a place on the scoreboard with a try, he failed to provide an extra kicking option again. One week after a 4/7 tackle ratio, Tuivasa-Sheck was this time producing a tackle rate of 4/9; including when he was fended off by a hat-trick scoring Leicester Fainga'anuku. Having made just 4 passes in 53 minutes, his failure to improve off last year's setbacks, will have shut the door on his World Cup hopes.
Centre - Rieko Ioane (6/10)
Did his best to get the team going forward with 53 metres off 10 carries, but was never given the support to finish the job; aside from setting up a try for Clarke. Made 5 passes and 4/5 tackles in a quiet effort off the ball.
Right Wing - Mark Telea (9/10)
With Will Jordan's prolonged period of absence, Telea at 14 for the World Cup is getting more and more likely. Scored a beautiful opening try, using his step to beat 7 defenders; also making 83 metres and 2 linebreaks in his 8 carries. Distributed 8 passes, 1 offload and worked hard off the ball to produce 11 tackles and 1 turnover.
Fullback - Stephen Perofeta (6/10)
Like Barrett, Perofeta wasn't as active as a member of the spine, but will be pleased enough with a close-range try on his 50th Super Rugby outing. Ran 56 metres off 9 carries and managed 5/6 tackles in a solid, rather than spectacular performance.
Reserve Hooker - Kurt Eklund (6/10)
Was a late call-up after the withdrawal of Soane Vikena. Played 24 minutes off the pine and gave a hearty attitude to the tackle, with 7 in total. Lineout remained threatening, which is always a plus for a hooker.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Jordan Lay (5/10)
Played 2 minutes alongside his younger brother, accumulating 67 in total. Completed 9 tackles and played his part cleaning the rucks, though he did lose control of one scrum and receive a yellow card for the team's penalty count.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Nepo Laulala (8/10)
A beautiful sight. The big man ripped open with ball-in-hand to run 26 metres, beat 1 defender and luck his way into 1 linebreak off 3 carries. Forced the Crusaders to really win collisions at the breakdown and made 5/7 tackles.
Reserve Lock - Tom Robinson (7/10)
Played 29 minutes after replacing Suafoa and added some leadership to the game plan, while taking ownership over the lineouts and ruck defence. Completed all 3 of his tackle attempts and ran 10 metres off his only carry.
Reserve Loose Forward - Taine Plumtree (No rating)
Replaced Papali'i with only 5 minutes to go, so didn't play enough to be rated.
Reserve Halfback - Taufa Funaki (No rating)
Played 9 minutes off the bench, so won't be given a rating.
Reserve Midfielder - Bryce Heem (8/10)
Made more metres (59 total), carries (9 total) and passes (5 total) in 27 minutes, than Tuivasa-Sheck did in 53. 1/2 tackles can be improved on, but backs don't choose how many strike runners come their way. Deserves the 12 jersey next week.
Reserve Utility Back - Zarn Sullivan (5/10)
Back from a long injury layoff and attempted to prey on the Crusaders' territory with his massive boot, though his kicks were shut down. A little quiet in other facets of the game, with 2 carries and 1 tackle.