The Hurricanes kept the Crusaders scoreless in the second half as they secured an impressive 35-10 bonus-point win in Christchurch on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
It’s an outstanding result which, combined with the Chiefs' loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin, sees the Canes win the New Zealand conference.
In another reminder of the strength of the New Zealand conference, the Hurricanes went toe-to-toe with a Crusaders side that has lost just three games this season, and ultimately the visitors were fully deserving of the win.
While the Canes were accurate and abrasive, the Crusaders lacked discipline and missed far too many tackles, with last year’s runners-up able to play the majority of the match in the right areas of the field.
There were significant changes to both sides before kick-off, with Ngani Laumape ruled out for the Hurricanes, and Jason Woodward coming in to replace him in the midfield. While for the Crusaders, scrumhalf Andy Ellis and lock Sam Whitelock were unable to take up their places in the starting lineup in a considerable double blow for the hosts.
From the outset, both sides displayed a clear endeavour to keep ball in hand, but the first scoring opportunity came from a massive Crusaders scrum, which earned an early penalty. However, Richie Mo'unga sent his goal kick wide.
It was a fortunate escape for the Hurricanes, who then shifted the pressure with an extended period of attack that first saw Vaea Fifita held up over the tryline before Woodward was finally put away to score under the posts.
However, it was the Crusaders who made most of the running in the opening stanza. As illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, they made 219m to 28, 58 carries to 52 and completed five clean breaks to two.
They finally received some reward when Mo’unga slotted a 24th-minute penalty, while a turnover then provided an opportunity for Ryan Crotty to canter over the tryline unopposed.
It sent the Saders into a three-point lead, but in a big moment just before the break, TJ Perenara charged down a box kick and regathered to score as the visitors went into the break with a rather fortuitous 14-10 lead.
The frustration for the hosts would have been exacerbated early in the second half when Israel Dagg dropped a ball cold with the Saders having a clear overlap on attack, but Hurricanes winger Julian Savea returned the favour soon after when he spilt the ball just a metre from the tryline.
Nevertheless, the ascendancy clearly shifted in favour of the Hurricanes in the third quarter (with possession standing at 63% in their favour), and they were fully deserving of a third try when Willis Halaholo bumped off an attempted tackle and went over for a simple try.
It suddenly opened up a handy 11-point buffer, while the result and bonus point was wrapped up when another impressive buildup provided the platform for replacement Callum Gibbins to barge over under the posts.
With the final play of the game, a loose ball was snapped up by Beauden Barrett to score and pile on the punishment for the Saders. A bonus-point win in Christchurch was as good as it possibly could get for the Hurricanes, and they certainly had plenty of reason to celebrate at full-time.
Crusaders – Try: Ryan Crotty. Conversion: Richie Mo'unga. Penalty: Mo’unga.
Hurricanes – Tries: Jason Woodward, TJ Perenara, Willis Halaholo, Callum Gibbins, Beauden Barrett. Conversions: Barrett (5).
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Jason Woodward, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Juilan Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Chris Eves, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reg Goodes.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Ben May, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Wes Goosen, 23 Otere Black.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images