The Crusaders kept their slim play-off hopes alive with a 35-18 bonus-point win over the Hurricanes in Nelson on Friday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
It was just the second defeat inflicted on the Hurricanes in 2015, and showed the Crusaders can match any team on their day. Unfortunately for the Cantabrians, their day has been all too inconsistent this season and they remain long shots for the play-offs.
They were fully deserving of their victory, though, on a day when the Hurricanes were strangely off-colour. The visitors made a number of uncustomary handling errors, while their lineout malfunctioned badly throughout the match, robbing them of any momentum.
The Hurricanes started well, but failed to make their territorial dominance count. The Crusaders weathered the early storm and hit back with a couple Dan Carter penalties. The All Blacks flyhalf, starting just his third match in the No 10 jersey this season, controlled things well and was successful with six of his seven attempts from the kicking tee.
The hosts showed great patience on attack, pushing and prodding the Hurricanes' defensive line in search of a hole. As he has done all season, it was Nemani Nadolo who would find the gap, knocking off James Marshall's tackle attempt, before finding a deft offload to David Havili, who in turn sent Mitchell Drummond over for the game's opening try.
The Hurricanes were handed a route back into the match when Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean was harshly yellow-carded for a tackle on Nehe Milner-Skudder. Dane Coles crossed for a try in his absence, as the visitors went in trailing 16-8 at half-time.
That deficit was reduced to just a solitary point at the start of the second half, as a sweeping move from the kick-off resulted in Ardie Savea going in for another contender for try of the season. However, another mix-up at lineout time allowed the Crusaders in for another try.
The Hurricanes grew frantic in their attempt to work their way back into the match and the Crusaders capitalised. Nadolo was once again the inspiration as Matt Todd crossed for the Crusaders' third try, before the big Fijian wrapped up the bonus point with a try of his own after a mix-up between Ma'a Nonu and Milner-Skudder.
Crusaders – Tries: Mitchell Drummond, Nafi Tuitavake, Matt Todd, Nemani Nadolo. Conversions: Dan Carter (3). Penalties: Carter (3).
Hurricanes – Tries: Dane Coles, Ardie Savea. Conversion: Otere Black. Penalties: Black (2).
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Matt Todd, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Jimmy Tupou, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Jone Macilai.
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Otere Black, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Ben May, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 Matt Proctor.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images