VIDEO: Crusaders lay down challenge to pretenders
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: The Crusaders laid down a challenge for the pretenders to their crown: ‘You want it? Come and get it!’
That emphatic statement was made in a 66-0 rout of the Rebels in Christchurch on Saturday.
The 10 tries to nil victory came just a week after only their second loss of the season – a 27-40 defeat to the Chiefs in Suva.
Not only did they erase the memories of that dreadful showing a week ago, they did it against one of the leading contenders from the Australian conference.
It left the Rebels with a monumental task to qualify for their first Super Rugby play-offs appearance.
While the machinations of the top eight are still to unfold over the weekend, the Rebels must find a way to regroup ahead of next Friday’s must-win clash against the Chiefs in Melbourne.
Last season the Rebels had a narrow final-round loss and ended up missing the play-offs on points differential.
“We know how good they are as a team, but the disappointing thing is that we didn’t play the way we wanted to play and the way we know we can play,” Melbourne skipper Dane Haylett-Petty said.
“Defence was poor and we gave a very good attacking team way too much possession so credit to the Crusaders.
“Luckily we get the chance to bounce back next week and we’re still in with a chance.”
* AS IT HAPPENED: To recap all the drama, CLICK HERE!
What is so remarkable about the Crusaders’ performance – a hallmark of their season – is how many tries they score inside the first three phases.
They simply don’t waste energy repeatedly recycling possession without going forward. They almost always find a way to turn the opposition around.
The Rebels travelled to Christchurch, where they Crusaders are now unbeaten in 28 matches, without star scrumhalf Will Genia due to the Wallabies rest rotation policy.
They also had to start with in-form Test wing Marika Koroibete on the bench under the same guidelines and the Rebels desperately missed them both.
They lacked the game smarts of Genia while Crusaders winger Braydon Ennor ran amok with two first-half tries, both set up by the brilliance of their flyhalf Richie Mo’unga.
In a clumsy, error-ridden showing, the Rebels missed 38 tackles and when they did have the ball, too often panicked under pressure although the Crusaders deserved some credit with their suffocating defence.
The home side led 26-0 at half-time with their last try a telling blow after Rebels No.9 Michael Ruru bizarrely opted to kick downfield after the half-time hooter rather than find touch.
The Crusaders made them pay with Mo’unga gathering the ball and himself kicking ahead for a charging Ennor, who beat the Rebels defence to touch down for second leg of his treble.
His fellow wing Sevu Reece also finished with a hat-trick among the haul of 10 to extend his lead at the top of the Super Rugby try-scorers.
The Crusaders hit the 50 point mark after 60 minutes, when fullback David Havili crossed for his second, again set up by Mo’unga.
Melbourne playmaker Quade Cooper, who also started on the bench, replaced new recruit Matt Toomua late in the game but like many of his teammates, had little impact.
The 66-point margin was their worst ever Super Rugby loss and their worst to the Crusaders – topping a 85-26 defeat in Christchurch in 2016.
Man of the match: In a game in which the Crusaders’ most scintillating skills were on full display, you can’t ignore the offload of Jack Goodhue to David Havili for a sensational try. And then there was Sevu Reece’s magical kick-and-chase for his second try. However, in all of that entertaining ingeniousness, there had to be a general directing the traffic and in our view, that was Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga. That’s not to diminish the amazing work of the forwards or creativeness of other backs, but our award goes to Mo’unga.
Form the Crusaders:
Tries: Reece 3, Havili 2, Ennor 3, Hall, Crotty
Cons: Mo’unga 7, Crotty
For the Rebels:
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Braydon Ennor, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 George Bower, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Ere Enari, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Ngane Punivai.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Tom English, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Ross Haylett-Petty, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Marika Koroibete.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), James Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)