In one heck of a tough effort, the 16,000-strong sellout crowd at Orangetheory Stadium were given a masterclass tutorial on rugby's basics by their home team; with the Crusaders using their tight five forwards to lead the Blues by 10-3 at half-time. Coming out for the second half, they then used Dalton Papali'i's red card to dispatch the Blues, taking the win by 15-3.
Following a convincing victory, we'll need to examine what set the Crusaders apart on the rainy Saturday night, by rating the players from jersey number 1 through to 23.
CRUSADERS PLAYER RATINGS
Crusaders captain, Scott Barrett (centre left), will have raised his likelihood of becoming the All Blacks captain for 2024, after a strong outing. Photo: Max Sharp.
Loosehead Prop - Joe Moody (No rating)
His run of injuries has continued and hopefully this one isn't serious. Moody won't be rated as he was replaced after being unable to walk off a sore ankle.
Hooker - Codie Taylor (8/10)
The number 2 produced a few handling errors, but was otherwise awesome. Taylor's lineout throwing made a difference, while his match stats were 25 metres, 1 defender beaten, 7 carries, 10 passes, 4/4 tackles and 2 turnovers won. Strong work.
Tighthead Prop - Tamaiti Williams (9/10)
Despite moving to loosehead prop when Moody was replaced, Williams was massive in the scrum in a 73-minute effort. Carried hard for 13 metres off 6 carries, while he's also worked on his distribution as seen with 5 passes. A 59% possession rate only required him to make 6 tackles.
Lock 4 - Scott Barrett (9/10)
A high possession rate won't stop a Ram truck engine from ticking over and Barrett kept going for his 13 tackles, also winning 1 turnover. Was a workhorse elsewhere too, for 13 metres, 1 defender beaten, 9 carries and significantly; 8 passes.
Lock 5 - Quinten Strange (7/10)
Although he's been more of an athletic lock for much of his career, just 4 carries put Strange in for a game of repeatedly hitting rucks. He got an early reward for this with 1 try, while his 2 tackles can be attributed to possession rates. Subbed off after 47 minutes.
Blindside Flanker - Christian Lio-Willie (8/10)
Repeatedly picked on smaller defenders to rack up 32 metres off 11 carries, plus several more metres in the post-contact zone. Slowed the opposition ball significantly on the counterruck, also adding 5 passes and 3/4 tackles to his 56-minute effort.
Openside Flanker - Tom Christie (9/10)
Allowed for the carrying of his other loose forwards to standout by scavenging ruck ball like a vulture. Christie deserves a few cold ones for his 11 metres, 5 carries, 5 passes, 11/11 tackles and 2 turnovers won, producing a commanding, military-style effort reminiscent of Matt Todd.
Number 8 - Cullen Grace (7/10)
Once again spent some time as a single-man pod out wide and as a sweeper in the backfield, to allow for 35 metres and 1 defender beaten off 8 carries, although his hands were severely manipulated by the weather. Maybe 11 passes were a little much?
Halfback - Mitchell Drummond (8/10)
Read a Beauden Barrett trick superbly late in the first half and got to contribute 10 metres to the team after a few sniping runs. Made a game-high 81 passes to control the pod shapes and proved to still be a viable emergency option for the World Cup, with 4/4 tackles.
First Five - Richie Mo'unga (8/10)
Much like Beauden Barrett, Mo'unga's 65 metres run are a little hyper-inflated by his positioning in the back field, though he somehow beat 8 defenders after being heavily marked. Kicked brilliantly and commanded the game with 26 passes and 7/8 tackles.
Left Wing - Leicester Fainga'anuku (9/10)
Now that he's outperformed Clarke twice at this level, is a re-call on the cards? If not, Toulon in France, will get a good buy. After all, Fainga'anuku scored an amazing try, ran 118 metres, beat 2 defenders, made 1 clean break, 17 carries, 1 pass and produced nice defensive stats for 5/6 tackles and 2 turnovers won.
Second Five - David Havili (9/10)
The 2010's called and they want their narrative back. Havili did for the Crusaders what Plummer couldn't for the Blues and bought immense physicality with his 59 metres, 6 defenders beaten, 1 clean break, 12 carries, 8 passes (including a thriller for Fainga'anuku's try) and 1 turnover. The "speed bump" tactic was very effective again too. Was smart off the boot, often targeting the opponents' weak foot, or sides of the pitch lacking numbers.
Centre - Braydon Ennor (7/10)
Although he got stuck in tight spaces, Ennor seems to finally be getting his agility back; though one wouldn't think so when looking at his stats of 9 metres, 2 defenders beaten and 6 carries. Strong in other areas, for 9 passes, 5/5 tackles and 2 turnovers. Maybe he will indeed keep his place in the All Blacks?
Right Wing - Dallas McLeod (6/10)
Although his attacking function was as a third midfielder, McLeod impressed under the high ball. Did a solid job for 24 metres, 2 defenders beaten, 1 clean break and 5 carries. Not everyone needs to be a superstar for the wins to come. Made 6/7 tackles.
Fullback - Will Jordan (7/10)
While a few micro-seconds away from his full reaction times, Jordan's 80 metres from 14 carries showed he still has the top end of his pace. While his kicking wasn't very good, he's headed in the right direction for sure. Completed 3/3 tackles and made 7 passes.
Reserve Hooker - Brodie McAlister (8/10)
Performed his role for the lineout and despite playing for only 21 minutes, McAlister's 7 tackles were still the fourth-most in the team; though jointly with several other players. After adding some power to the scrum too, re-selection for the All Blacks XV looks likely.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Kershawl Sykes-Martin (No rating)
The number 17 played for just 16 minutes in two spells off the bench and didn't make any noticeable impacts, so won't be rated.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Oli Jager (8/10)
Finally reached 50 games for the Crusaders and aside from time in the blood bin, did so in style. Had one of his all-time best scrum performances and gained front-foot ball for the team with his 5 carries. One area of his game to raise eyebrows was 8/11 tackles; though this is from Jager performing a similar "sweeper" role, on counterattacking carriers.
Reserve Lock - Zach Gallagher (7/10)
Failed to gain metres off his lone carry, but now looks a much more suitable weight for this level at 117kg. Made 4 passes off the lineout, while going about the business on defence for 6/7 tackles and 1 turnover. More game time is likely in the post-Whitelock era...
Reserve Loose Forward - Sione Havili Talitui (8/10)
Came on in the 56th minute and wanted to destroy his opposition. Havili Talitui then did so, clearly. Won 1 turnover as expected, while making his team's second-most tackles with 12/12, including a massive hit on Patrick Tuipulotu.
Reserve Halfback - Noah Hotham (9/10)
A young halfback with some real fearlessness, Hotham showed his initiative off the bench when sniping for 28 metres run, 2 defenders beaten and 3 carries. The 20-year-old can tackle too, managing 7/7. His future is very bright!
Reserve First Five - Fergus Burke (No rating)
Although Burke has played hefty minutes at 15 this season, he did not play today, so won't be rated.
Reserve Midfielder - Jack Goodhue (7/10)
Nothing too flashy for the number 23, just a stock-standard replacement's day at the office to get the job done. Goodhue ran for 18 metres and beat 2 defenders off 3 carries, plus with his defensive effort of 7/7 tackles; he'll just be stoked to be playing his rugby again.