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Super Rugby: Crusaders beat Blues 21-13 in Christchurch
Crusaders all-but ended the Blues’ Super Rugby play-off hopes following a 21-13 win over their New Zealand rivals on Saturday.
Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo scored two tries for the second-placed Crusaders as the Blues, who hit back through Frank Halai’s first half try, left the AMI Stadium empty handed.
Stuttering to their tenth win of the season to move four points clear at the top of the New Zealand Conference, the Crusaders laboured to victory as Dan Carter started for the first time in 2014.
It was a special night for Keven Mealamu, the All Blacks hooker becoming the first player to make 150 appearances for a single team in Super Rugby, however he couldn't mark it with a win.
Colin Slade and Ihaia West traded opening penalties before Nadolo grabbed the game's first try on 16 minutes.
Returning from international duty with Fiji were he has excelled, the in-form wing just did enough to ground the ball before being tackled into touch.
Quick ball at the breakdown handed the Crusaders the majority of possession and they nearly crossed for try number two when Dominic Bird rumbled his way up to just short of the line.
Halai's moment of brilliance however stunned the home crowd, intercepting the pass from Andy Ellis to race 100 metres for the try to put the Blues into the lead.
Slade restored the Crusaders lead with his second penalty after Mealamu had nowhere to go at the ruck but West responded in kind - the Blues pack rumbling well with their maul as both sides jostled for the lead.
Two scrum penalties against the Blues in their half both went unpunished as Slade failed to convert, leaving the visitors with a 13-11 lead at the break.
A slow and scrappy start to the second half saw the Blues reverse their fortunes at the scrum, winning successive penalties but with no points to show for it.
The highlight in some ways, although not for Crusaders fans, was a bruising carry from Ma'a Nonu that left Slade flat out, a week on from suffering a similar hit against the Hurricanes. His departure duly followed as Carter moved back to fly-half.
Carter finally punctured what for 25 minutes had been a woeful, scoreless second half with a penalty to put the Crusaders in front at 14-13.
Nadolo's second try swiftly followed, Kieron Fonotia doing well to offload from the deck as the big Fijian dove over from close range.
There was no coming back for the Blues, their Super Rugby hopes virtually over for another year. The Crusaders meanwhile have a valuable gap ahead of next week's final round.