MacDonald seals win for Crusaders

Getty Images     17 May 2009     Getty Images

It took the first dropped goal of his long Super Rugby career, coming with five minutes of the game left, to secure the win to keep Crusaders hopes alive. It was the perfect farewell for the durable MacDonald whose link with the Crusaders will end whenever this year's campaign is completed.

Moments earlier, the Blues had scored the only try of the game through second five-eighths Isaia Toeava to claim the lead for the first time in the game 13-12.

But Crusaders experience saw the ball worked back downfield for the set-up for which MacDonald obliged with a gentle chip through the posts.

Frustrating as the Blues season has been, it still found something from its reserves of determination to give the Crusaders the sort of battle that the traditional rivalry between the two sides demanded.

The previously porous Blues defence proved more durable and there were few occasions when the Crusaders, who have struggled to get their scoring rhythm to the heights achieved in their earlier campaigns, looked likely to score.

Meanwhile, the Blues ability to score, despite its lack of success, deserted it on the night in what became something of an old-fashioned slug fest.

Improved Blues efficiency at the breakdown created more opportunities than for several games, while the Crusaders also struggled, especially in the first quarter, with clearing ball from their scrum.

It was Blues halfback Chris Smylie who disrupted the flow of ball at the back of the scrum and he featured with some crucial breaks to get his side on the front foot.

The only real try-scoring chance for either side came in the 36th minute when Crusaders first five-eighths Stephen Brett slipped through the Blues backline but he was grounded just short of the line and infringed, allowing the line to be cleared. In the 67th minute, however, Brett muffed a clear scoring chance after a strong build-up by his forwards on the Blues line.

As the ball was finally released for the backs with the Blues stretched, Brett's pass was abysmal, leaving no chance for the ball to be picked up by his own men.

Then moments later, after 71 minutes, at the other end of the field, he threw a hail Mary pass when attempting to field a kick ahead by Blues first five-eighths Jimmy Gopperth. In the resulting play when Jared Payne attempted to clean up the mess, the ball emerged for Toeava to win the TMO's support in securing a try which Gopperth converted to give the Blues the lead for the first time in the game.

Earlier, penalty goals, one each to either side were landed MacDonald (14minutes) and Gopperth (17 minutes).

The Blues made good ground as the result of a Toeava break. The second five-eighths fed the ball back to Gopperth and he in turn fed centre Anthony Tuitavake. But having given wing Joe Rokocoko space on the flank, a poor pass from Rokocoko to fullback Rudi Wulf was dropped, killing the movement.

Second five-eighths Ryan Crotty got the second half off to a lively start when finding space around Blues prop Tony Woodcock and speeding through to feed supporing No.8 Thomas Waldrom who was pulled down just short of the line.

However, a penalty was awarded and MacDonald landed his third goal after 44 minutes.

A controversial ruling was made by the TMO Chris Pollock when it appeared Crusaders lock Michael Paterson had scored in a melee close to the line, however, he was unable to determine who had their hands on the ball and the try was ruled out. A preceding penalty infringement was played with Blues flanker Tom Chamberlain having been sent to the sin bin.

Then when it appeared the Crusaders would have their reward, Waldrom lost the ball in the motion of grounding it over the line.

Scorers were:

Crusaders 15 (Leon MacDonald 4 pen, dropped goal) Blues 13 (Isaia Toeava try; Jimmy Gopperth con, 2 pen). HT: 6-3