The Crusaders kicked off their Vodacom Super Rugby title defence with a bonus-point 43-25 win against the Waratahs in Nelson on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
It was not a perfect performance from the defending champions, who lost a host of experienced players during the off-season, but it was good enough to have them come away with all five points.
The Crusaders looked set for a comfortable victory as they went into the break 24-6 ahead, thanks to tries from both their wings and centre Braydon Ennor.
However, they seemed to slip into cruise control before the game was really sealed and the Waratahs came back in the second half, with teenage wing Mark Nawaqanitawase scoring a brace to change the balance of the contest.
On debut, the impressive 19-year-old got his first try with an acrobatic finish in the corner, before scoring an intercept try minutes later. He has been spoken about as a player to watch in Australia and certainly made his mark in his first game.
It seemed at that stage that the Waratahs had done enough to work themselves back into the game to have a chance of victory. However, three further tries in the final 20 minutes, including braces for Jordan and Ennor, sealed the result for the Crusaders, with the Waratahs grabbing a late consolation through Alex Newsome.
On the whole, it looks like the Crusaders may have to adjust to being without the experience of Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock, among others, as their pack looked shaky at times. But given that three of their try-scorers were under 25 years old, it says something positive about the production line in Christchurch.
Crusaders – Tries: Will Jordan (2), Braydon Ennor (2), Leicester Faingaanuku, Luke Romano. Conversions: David Havili (5). Penalty: Havili.
Waratahs – Tries: Mark Nawaqanitawase (2), Alex Newsome. Conversions: Will Harrison (2). Penalties: Will Harrison (2).
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 Leicester Faingaanuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (c), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 George Bower.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Cullen Grace, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Sevu Reece.
Waratahs – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Lalaki Foketi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Damian Fitzpatrick, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Carlo Tizanno, 22 Mitch Short, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images