Super 12 final 2003
Blues claim third Super Rugby title
Scrum.com
May 24, 2003
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Date/Time: May 24, 2003
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Blues 21 - 17 Crusaders
Blues captain Xavier Rush salutes the crowd after his side's thrilling 21-17 victory over the Crusaders in the Super 12 final, Blues v Crusaders, Super 12 final, Eden Park, May 28 2004.
Blues skipper Xavier Rush parades the Super 12 trophy to the fans
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The Blues have claimed the 2003 Super 12 title with a thrilling 21-17 victory over the Crusaders at Eden Park.

The Blues were outscored three tries to two, but the accurate kicking of five-eighth Carlos Spencer was enough to ensure his side won a deserved title.

As expected, the contest was an extremely tight affair and after setting the standard in attack all season it was the Blues defence that proved a match winner.

The Blues looked to have the game secure when flanker Daniel Braid put his side ahead 21-10 in the 67th minute. But the defending champions attacked relentlessly in a thrilling final 10 minutes. Daniel Carter, Leon MacDonald and Chris Jack were either stopped on the line or were just centimetres short before winger Caleb Ralph finally found a way through in the 76th minute to reduce the lead to 21-17.

In the end however, time ran out for the Crusaders and fittingly it was Spencer, the Blues' player of the season, who had the ball in hand when the full-time siren sounded.

Little separated the two sides in the opening 40 minutes with only the exploits of Crusaders hooker Mark Hammett proving the difference.

The Crusaders led 10-6 at the break courtesy of two tries to Hammett who gave his All Blacks prospects a huge boost ahead of Blues rake Keven Mealamu. He scored the game's first try in the 19th minute from a lineout move 15m out after showing great strength to push through the tackle of Blues winger Joe Rokocoko.

Spencer reduced the lead with a penalty in the 24th minute and put the Blues in front 6-5 with a further penalty in the 39th minute.

The Blues should have enjoyed a one-point lead at the break, but a crucial error by Spencer at the re-start allowed the Crusaders to take a four-point lead at half-time.

Blues halfback David Gibson took the re-start close to touch and passed to Spencer for the clearance, but the five-eighth dropped the ball allowing for Hammett to pick up the scraps and race through to score.

Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Daniel Carter had missed earlier penalty and conversion attempts, and then Andrew Mehrtens, who had just taken the field, pushed his conversion attempt well wide.

Few would dare a prediction at half-time and even more so when Blues fullback Doug Howlett put his side ahead 11-10 with a try in the 45th minute. It followed some fine work by halfback Doug Gibson, who overcame some early nerves to prove a worthy replacement for Steve Devine.

The Blues had most of the momentum after the break and managed to convert their pressure with a penalty to Spencer in the 56th minute. They continued to dominate and took a crucial 11-point lead when Braid crossed for a converted try in the 67th minute.

But back came the Crusaders again and after some sustained Ralph crossed for his score but it was not enough as the Blues clinched their third Super 12 title.

The focus now falls on All Blacks coach John Mitchell as he prepares to name his squad on Monday for the opening clash of the season against Englandnext month.

BLUES 21 Tries: Doug Howlett, Daniel Braid Conversions: Carlos Spencer Penalties: Carlos Spencer 3

CRUSADERS 17 Tries: Mark Hammett 2, Caleb Ralph Conversions: Andrew Mehrtens

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