The Crusaders scored 13 tries in their crushing 85-26 win over the Rebels in Christchurch on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The bonus-point victory keeps the Crusaders in contention to win the New Zealand conference. They are one point behind the Chiefs and will stay ahead of the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
It was always going to be a difficult challenge for the Rebels, who have been unlucky with injuries recently and went into this contest without the likes of Sean McMahon, Mitch Inman and Lopeti Timani.
For the Crusaders, who rested captain Kieran Read, veteran loosehead Wyatt Crockett and their top try-scorer Jone Macilai, it was easy pickings against a pitiable Rebels defensive system.
And yet, without Read and Crockett, the Saders forwards laid the foundation for this commanding victory. They bullied the Rebels at the breakdown and collisions, which allowed the hosts to open up a huge 36-point lead at half-time.
The Crusaders dominated territory and possession and everything else in between during the first half, and made their supremacy count with seven tries before the break.
Playing in his 100th game, stand-in captain Sam Whitelock opened the scoring in the second minute, after getting the Crusaders on the front foot with a busting run from the initial kickoff. That try was an example of things to come in the next half hour as the Crusaders combined the sensible with the downright outrageous.
Punishing the Rebels from turnover possession, the interplay between the Saders backs and forwards and their strong offloading game saw Ryan Crotty, Scott Barrett, Alex Hodgman, Nemani Nadolo and Johnny McNicoll run in tries for a 38-0 scoreline.
The Rebels then finally had something go their way when a poor exit kick by the Crusaders handed them possession inside the 22. From the lineout, wing Sefa Naivalu, dubbed ‘Super Sefa’, showed what he is capable off with a darting run through the opposition’s defence to set up scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker to score under the posts. But their joy was short-lived Richie Mo’unga bumped off Stirzaker’s feeble tackle attempt to set up Crotty’s second of the match to close out the first half at 43-7.
The Crusaders’ relentless attack didn’t ease up in the second half and neither did the Rebels’ poor defence improve.
To their credit, the Rebels did manage to breach the Crusaders line three times in the second half, but it mattered little as they were always on the back foot.
Hooker Codie was the next to capitalise on the Crusaders' dominance, sneaking over for a brace of tries in quick succession, before replacement Pete Samu streaked over two minutes later.
The Rebels saw more of the ball after that and fullback Reece Hodge, who played with an injury sustained late in the first half, scored an brilliant solo effort when he gathered his own chip over the line. But again, a good attacking period by the Rebels was undone with feeble tackling and soon after McNicholl and flank Matt Todd raced in to extend the Crusaders' lead to 78-12.
And while Naivalu got on the scoresheet for the Rebels late in the match, it was the visitors who would have the last say, as a fine finish saw McNicholl complete his hat-trick and the Crusaders' scoring spree.
Crusaders – Tries: Sam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty (2), Scott Barrett, Alex Hodgman, Nemani Nadolo, Johnny McNicholl (3), Codie Taylor (2), Pete Samu, Matt Todd. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (7), Nemani Nadolo (3).
Rebels – Tries: Nic Stirzaker, Reece Hodge, Culum Retallick, Sefa Naivalu. Conversions: Jack Debreczeni (3).
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Jimmy Tupou, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alalaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samo, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Kieran Fonotia.
Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Colby Fainga'a, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Sam Jeffries, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Jonah Placid.
Photo: Kai SchwoererGetty Images