Richie Mo'unga answers call in local derby victory
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 11: Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders kicks a conversion during the round 5 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Crusaders and the Blues at Orangetheory Stadium on July 11, 2020 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

When he was needed most, Richie Mo’unga answered the call of his Crusaders team, to direct them towards a win in a local derby victory over the Blues.

The All Blacks and Crusaders first-five was again at his prominent best, in driving his side for the entire 80 minutes. And that fact will be where the Blues feel they had given the hosts an opportunity.

For 75% of the match, the Auckland-side was leading. A second-half try to Rieko Ioane appeared to be the catalyst for a strong challenge yet, when the Otere Black conversion was sharply charged down, it turned the tide for the champion Crusaders.

And at the heart of those pivotal moments in this local derby, was on Richie Mo’unga.

Richie Mo’unga answers call in local derby victory

Very few players can lead by example. Micro-moments of brilliance are not always sustainable. Yet this is where Mo’unga is a peak performance player. His multiple moments all combined for a display of all-round ability.

Richie Mo'unga magic

đź‘‘ Richie Mo'unga. Game Changer. #SuperRugbyAotearoa

Posted by rugby.com.au on Saturday, July 11, 2020

It requires a unique player to think quickly, to create and complete an astonishingly successful short restart. The skill to regather was one thing, then to get on his feet, break the line and to gain at least 35 meters, before he was brought down.

Those two moments then led to the territorial advantage which the Crusaders are all too familiar at maximizing these. So after 60 minutes of the Blues holding the balance of the game, this fourth quarter was ‘owned’ by the hosts.

This Mitch Drummond score took the wind out of the Blues’ sails. The balance shifted, and you witnessed the Crusaders regain their confidence. In a very ‘All Black like’ performance, they had absorbed everything that Leon MacDonald’s group could muster. Now, the Scott Robertson coached side knew they were in the ascendancy.

Will Jordan, a second-half replacement, finished off the Blues hopes when he scored in the 75th minute. The elusive runner received a short ball from Mo’unga, before he punched across the line, to the cheers of the Christchurch stadium’s full house.

Blues efforts worth praise yet, Crusaders extend undefeated streak

Rugby pundits had been split on the opportunity that the Blues held in this Round Five clash of Super Rugby Aotearoa. After a week off, the visitors looked to have a new attitude. They were full of confidence, on a winning streak of seven games, and might be reflecting the class that 2003 held.

Beauden Barrett was the face of much of the marketing but, the selection of two pivots at 10 and 12 pointed to a will to ‘play the line’. If Otere Black and Harry Plummer could work in the same way that George Ford and Owen Farrell have done for England then indecision from the Crusaders could be an opportunity.

That selection strategy might have worked but, Plummer was now confronted by Jack Goodhew and Brayden Ennor. A task he attempted well, however, it meant the attacking options were not as frequent as planned. The home side could react to most of the challenges, and Barrett did not inject himself as well as he had against the Hurricanes or Highlanders.

Full credit should be given to the Blues try-scoring moments. In fact, Mark Telea is one of the best finishers in the game today. Given the ball on the tramline, his direct approach to attack saw him fly-in at the corner flag. Superman may have a challenger, and only Will Jordan is more threatening with the ball.

Mark Telea charges forward during the round 5 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Crusaders and the Blues. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Rieko Ioane did very well to stand tall, breaking several tackles to score his try in the second half. And if not for a massive tryline defensive effort early, barnstorming number eight Hoskins Sotutu may well have scored too.

That attack, as well as stout defence from the Blues should be praised. They could well have done more if the scrum had gotten the better of the hosts. Three lost lineouts and some ineffective kicking only gave possession back to the Crusaders – who don’t need an invitation to punish any and all visitors.

The crusaders home record now reads: played 36, lost 0, draw 1.

And Richie Mo’unga is one asset that every other Super Rugby side would wish to have. His personal statistics are impressive yet, his calmness and positive injection at key moments is his greatest strength.

Not a team built on one player, do not read this as a ‘Richie fan club’ story. No, he is leading by example. Not the pin-up as in a Barrett or a Sonny Bill Williams. Mo’unga is a team player who has individual skills in both attack and defence. Hie try-saving tackle against the highlanders a week earlier, proved that the Crusaders can rely on their pivot to play a rounded game.

Especially needed in the high-class matches which this season’s domestic competition is delivering. Another local derby match saw a familiar result. Even while not collecting a try bonus point, by holding the nine-point advantage, it denied the Blues a losing bonus point. Their lead in the Super Rugby Aotearoa standings is underlined.

Cue fistpump from Razor Robertson.

Crusaders 25 – Tries: Drummond, Jordan; Conversions: Mounga (2); Penalties: Mounga (4).

Blues 16 – Tries: Telea, R Ioane; Con: Black; Pen: Black.

While the domestic competition is a ‘first past the post’ competition [no playoffs], fans would still like to see one thing by the end of the season. No, not the North v South trial game, it would be the breakdancing coach.

From Saturday night’s performance, Razor should be ready to limber up by August 16. When he takes his side north to Auckland for the last round of Super Rugby Aotearoa, and the deserving rematch against the improving Blues.

 

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