The Crusaders beat the Hurricanes 24-13 in Christchurch on Friday to strengthen their claim for the New Zealand conference title. JON CARDINELLI reports.
This was always going to be a crucial game in the context of the New Zealand conference and indeed the overall standings. The result sees the Crusaders moving five log points clear of the Hurricanes and strengthening their chances of home advantage in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.
The result also brings an end to the Hurricanes’ 10-game winning streak. The Crusaders went into this game without a host of first-choice players and All Blacks – with Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty the latest omissions. On the day, the Cantabrians were still good enough to outmuscle and outwit their Hurricanes counterparts.
The wet conditions made handling extremely difficult. Both sets of players battled to control the ball, and in many instances, defence dominated attack.
The score was 7-6 in the Crusaders’ favour at the break. The hosts turned down an opportunity to shoot for goal at the end of the first half. The Hurricanes made a massive statement, though, when they repelled the Crusaders forwards and went to the sheds only one point behind on the scoreboard.
The momentum was with the hosts during the initial stages of the second stanza, though, and they continued to dominate in terms of territory and possession. Richie Mo’unga kicked a penalty and then the Crusaders struck their biggest blow yet when Mike Alaalatoa powered over the line from close range.
Mo’unga converted the try to steer his side into a 17-6 lead. It was a significant advantage in wet conditions, and the Hurricanes were always going to struggle to come back.
The Hurricanes battled to live with the hosts at the scrum. After a particularly dominant platform had been set, No 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis flew over the line for his side’s third try.
Reed Prinsep scored late in the game to threaten the Crusaders’ chances of claiming that bonus point, and to improve his own team’s chances of getting a consolation for losing by seven or less. In the end, the Crusaders had to be content with the four log points, and the Hurricanes with none.
The Hurricanes still have a game in hand, and may yet catch the Crusaders at the top of the standings. At the moment, however, the Crusaders are favourites to finish the regular season in first place.
Crusaders – Tries: Scott Barrett, Mike Alaalatoa, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (3). Penalty: Mo’unga.
Hurricanes – Try: Reed Prinsep. Conversion: Beauden Barrett. Penalties: Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Peter Samu, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Mike Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Chris King, 18 Donald Brighouse, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Blackadder, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Jonah Lowe.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images