Ahead of the pivotal Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Crusaders and Blues on Saturday, live on Sky Sports, we pick out some classic clashes from New Zealand’s fiercest rivalry…
Blues 21-17 Crusaders, 2003
They may be in good form at present, but for the last, real, tangible Blues heyday, one has to go back 17 years to the 2003 Super Rugby final.
The last occasion in which the Blues tasted glory, this 2003 victory was their third title since Super Rugby’s inception in 1996.
Mark Hammett scored first for the Crusaders – the club by then having leapfrogged the Blues’ earlier competition dominance to become champions in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002 – first bulldozing his way past Joe Rokocoko, before then pouncing on a Carlos Spencer error to score a second try.
But in front of a home crowd of nearly 50,000 people at Eden Park, the Blues came roaring back, with the abiding memory of the day Doug Howlett sliding over for a try in the rain and an 11-10 lead. A further Daniel Braid lineout try sealed victory.
Since that day, the Blues have not made a final, while the Crusaders have gone on to win six more titles (2005, 2006, 2008, 2017, 2018, 2019).
Blues 13-20 Crusaders, 1998
When Super Rugby first came to fruition as a competition back in 1996, the premier club by a considerable margin was the Blues.
Titles arrived in 1996 and 1997 at a canter – the latter year with the club completely unbeaten – before they reached a third successive final in 1998. This time they were caught 20-13 by an emerging Crusaders side, though – one which would go on to dominate themselves, and this particular clash at Eden Park was critical to that.
In 1996 the Crusaders had finished last, while in 1997 they finished mid-table, but under Peter Sloane and Wayne Smith they made the 1998 final, beating the Sharks of South Africa at the semi-final stage.
At Eden Park in the final, they were facing a Blues side they had never beaten before, and had to come from 10-3 behind to level things up in the second half, before a last gasp James Kerr try, where he flopped on an Andrew Mehrtens chip-ahead – one which took the most unusual, and for the Blues, disastrous of bounces – to clinch victory.
It capped a remarkable rise in a very short space of time and the Crusaders never looked back, winning the next two titles in a row – both away from home in Dunedin against the Highlanders and Canberra against the Brumbies.
Crusaders 29-38 Blues, 2004
A thoroughly entertaining clash which is remembered most for the last-minute antics of one Carlos Spencer.
Playing at Lancaster Park, and with the Blues 31-29 ahead late on, Spencer instigated a counter-attack from his own try-line, flinging a long left-hand pass to Rokocoko before the wing ran out outstandingly well, combined with Justin Collins and the flanker fed Spencer again.
Thereafter, in a show of outrageous showboating, Spencer literally walked the ball over towards the corner flag, placed it down, antagonised the Crusaders home fans, and then slotted the extremely difficult conversion he had left himself off the touchline through the sticks to deny the Crusaders even a losing bonus-point.
“People always remind me about that try, especially the boys over here in South Africa. It always pops up every now and then,” Spencer said in 2012.
Blues 24-22 Crusaders, 2011
Our third Eden Park clash between the pair, but this one wasn’t a final like the previous two, rather a Round One encounter featuring a stunning second-half comeback.
At 19-6 down at the break and at home, the Blues set about turning things around as Benson Stanley scored after a wonderful run from Rene Ranger, Tony Woodcock notched a second before skipper Keven Mealamu turned down a potential shot at goal late on for a kick to the corner.
From the lineout, the hooker himself went over for a try when he stormed past and through Andy Ellis, clinching a dramatic comeback victory.
A week later, the devastating Christchurch earthquake occurred, placing the Crusaders on the road for the rest of the campaign. They made the final but were beaten by the Reds in Brisbane.
Blues 18-19 Crusaders, 2012
In 2012, it was the Crusaders who would pinch a tight victory in Round One, again at Eden Park in another game of epic excitement.
At 12-6 behind, the visitors snuck into the lead courtesy of a Robbie Fruean try and Tyler Bleyendaal penalty, which gave them a 16-12 advantage.
Two Blues penalties edged them 18-16 in front, before Bleyendaal registered another off the tee for the Crusaders to give them the slenderest of leads at 19-18 heading into the closing stages.
Into dead time, Piri Weepu, featuring in his first-ever appearance for the Blues, attempted a drop goal to win the clash from straight in front but was charged down to end the game.