The Crusaders moved to the top of the overall Super Rugby log with a 21-8 win against the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The champions are now two points ahead of the Lions, who suffered a shock 27-22 loss to the Reds in Brisbane earlier in the day.
This was a highly competitive fixture, which the Crusaders took control of by scoring two tries against 14 men in the first half. In contrast, the Brumbies were unable to add to their tally when playing against 13 men in the second.
It took the Brumbies just 98 seconds to open the scoring when a wrap-around and offload in the tackle from Joe Powell sent Henry Speight away down the right-hand touchline. The Crusaders would have been disappointed with their defence on that occasion. Scott Barrett rushed out of the line and Seta Tamanivalu came in off his wing to tackle Blake Enever, who he thought was going to receive the ball.
The Crusaders dominated the next period of play after opting to kick a scrum penalty to touch instead of at goal. Both Sam Whitelock and Barrett came within inches of scoring a try, before the visitors chose to scrum from another kickable penalty. This time, Jordan Taufua was brought down just short of the line, before Codie Taylor knocked on in the tackle.
However, the visitors did make their 70% possession in the first 16 minutes count when another scrum penalty saw them kick for touch and attack from the lineout. A clever set play resulted in Tamanivalu taking the ball behind decoy runner Ryan Crotty. The winger then broke through Wharenui Hawera’s tackle and his one-handed, no-look offload put Tim Bateman away for the try.
The Brumbies suffered a game-changing setback at the end of the first quarter when Chance Peni was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Israel Dagg. The Crusaders made their one-man advantage count from a 5 metre scrum when Bryn Hall put Manasa Mataele – who had replaced Dagg on the right wing – away in the corner. Then, with Peni set to return to the field during the next break in play, Matt Todd broke through the defence and his long pass put Mataele over for his second. Mike Delany’s third conversion made it 21-5.
Hawera stopped the rot for the Brumbies with a penalty and the hosts then withstood another Crusaders onslaught, with Crotty losing the ball just before the tryline two minutes after the half-time hooter.
However, it was the hosts who dominated the third quarter of the match, earning seven penalties, including three at scrum time. Referee Jaco Peyper eventually lost patience with the Crusaders, sending Barrett (ruck infringement) and Crotty (offside) to the sin bin in quick succession.
Crucially, though, the Brumbies were unable to score any points while the two were off the field. The hosts’ slim hopes of staging a comeback evaporated when they conceded a scrum penalty 5m out from the Crusaders tryline with six minutes to go.
The visitors pushed hard for a bonus-point try, but a knock-on in the 83rd minute resulted in the final whistle.
The Crusaders have now won their last 12 matches against Australian opposition, dating back to 2015, and their last eight against the Brumbies.
Brumbies – Try: Henry Speight. Penalty: Wharenui Hawera.
Crusaders – Tries: Tim Bateman, Manasa Mataele (2). Conversions: Mike Delany (3).
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 Chance Peni, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Blake Enever, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Faalelei Sione, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Andrew Muirhead.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Tim Perry.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images