The Crusaders clinched an 11th successive win as they ground out a 20-12 victory over the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
There seems to be just no stopping this Crusaders juggernaut. Despite travelling back from South Africa, where they hammered the Bulls last weekend, the Saders displayed the necessary composure and class to close out an invaluable victory.
With the scores deadlocked at 9-9 at half-time, the Crusaders made a storming start to the second stanza, in which they camped in Hurricanes territory for almost the entire 10 minutes after the restart.
Deservedly, the hosts reaped due reward as a powerful lineout drive resulted in a try to captain Matt Todd, which proved to be decisive in the context of a closely-fought clash.
As it was, goal-kickers Jordie Barrett and Richie Mo'unga each slotted a fourth penalty as it remained a tense five-point ball game heading into the latter stages of the contest, but the match-winning moment came in the 75th minute when the latter slotted another key three-pointer.
From there, the Crusaders' defence held firm to ensure the seven-time champs continue their undefeated charge to the playoffs.
In what had been expected to be one of the games of the season thus far, both teams instead made a nervy start to proceedings in clearly slippery conditions, due to the heavy dew in a cold Christchurch.
Uncharacteristically, the Crusaders conceded as many as seven turnovers in the opening quarter (and 12 in total in the first half), but the Hurricanes failed to make the most of this gifted possession, while the visitors also endured some struggles at scrum time and at the breakdown.
Ultimately, the testy nature of this all-important encounter was reflected by the fact that goal-kicking – instead of the expected tries – proved to be the only points in the opening stanza, with Mo'unga and Barrett both slotting three kicks.
The best try-scoring opportunity came just after the half-an-hour mark when a pinpoint cross-kick from Saders centre Ryan Crotty found Seta Tamanivalu in the in-goal area, but the winger spilled the ball when all he had to do was collect and dot down.
That rather aptly summed up a surprisingly scrappy first half, where neither team was quite at their best, but the Crusaders displayed the necessary second-half composure to come away with yet another win.
Crusaders – Try: Matt Todd. Penalties: Richie Mo'unga (5).
Hurricanes – Penalties: Jordie Barrett (4).
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Pete Samu, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ben May, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Toa Halafihi, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Wes Goosen.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images