VIDEO: Crusaders' lucky escape in Christchurch thriller
SUPER RUGBY TRANS-TASMAN REPORT: Young Brumbies flyhalf Noah Lolesio missed a touchline conversion on the final hooter, as the Crusaders escaped with a fortuitous 31-29 win.
Despite outscoring the visitors from Australia by five tries to four, the New Zealand franchise – reduce to 14 men for the last few minutes – was made to hang on in desperation in a thrilling match in Christchurch on Saturday.
The Crusaders were cruising to victory after skipping out to a 31-17 lead, with just 10 minutes remaining.
A magical solo try to Brumbies fullback Tom Banks – when he shook off three tacklers in a 62 metre sprint to the line – got the visitors back in the game in the 72nd minute.
A 79th-minute yellow card to Crusaders substitute Ereatara Enari further opened the door, and the margin was just two points when a clever inside flick from Brumbies wing Tom Wright sent No.8 Rob Valetini over.
It left Lolesio with a chance to draw the game, but he squeezed the tough sideline conversion to the left to narrowly miss as the final siren sounded.
Lolesio hunched over in disappointment, but his teammates ran in to console him after what had been a remarkable late fightback from the Brumbies.
“Definitely proud of the effort, especially the fight we showed in the second half,” Brumbies captain Allan Ala’alatoa said in his post-match reaction.
“Looking at the boys, we’re devastated at the loss. We came out here to win.”
Crusaders captain David Havili praised the Brumbies for their fighting effort.
“The Brumbies came and took it up to us,” he said.
“[We had] tired legs from last week, but you can’t blame that. It’s a new competition and you’ve got to step up. It wasn’t good enough, but we came away with the win.”
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The first 20 minutes was a dour affair filled with failed scrums and uncharacteristic handling errors.
The one bright spark was a fifth-minute try to flank Ethan Blackadder, who got on the end of a nice Crusaders move to touch down in the corner.
Scott Sio barged over on 27 minutes to give the Brumbies the lead, but the Crusaders hit back with two more tries to finish the half.
Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga threw a dummy to fool the Brumbies defence in the 29th minute.
And seven minutes later Havili intercepted a pass from Brumbies scrumhalf Ryan Lonergan before embarking on a 50 metre sprint to the line, giving the home side a 19-7 halftime lead.
The Crusaders dominated the early stages of the second half, but it was the Brumbies who struck first when Simone picked up the ball from a breakdown and touched down under no pressure.
Brumbies substitute Luke Reimer pulled off a brilliant try-saving tackle to deny Blackadder in the 60th minute, but tries to Brendon O’Connor and Cullen Grace within six minutes of each other looked to have sealed the win.
The Brumbies attacked hard at the death, and they came within a whisker of coming away with the draw in a gutsy effort against the New Zealand champions.
Man of the match: Codie Taylor had a respectable outing in his 100th game for the Crusaders, while Ethan Blackadder was the most productive for the hosts – with plenty of run metres and a massive tackle count. Richie Mo’unga, as always creative and unpredictable, produced a moment of magic on the half-hour mark – just after the Brumbies had taken the lead. Solomone Kata was looking dangerous with the ball in hand, while Irae Simone and Tom Banks were good value for their tries. Our award goes to hard-working Brumbies No.8 Rob Valetini – who took his carry count into double figures, made 10 tackles and scored the crucial final try that could have secured a deserved draw.
For the Crusaders
Tries: Blackadder, Mo’unga, Havili, O’Connor, Grace
Cons: Mo’unga 3
For the Brumbies
Tries: Sio, Simone, Bank, Valetini
Cons: Lolesio 3
Yellow card: Ereatara Enari (Crusaders, 78 – repeated offences and cynical foul, killing the ball at the breakdown)
Crusaders: 15 George Bridge, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 David Havili, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Tom Sanders, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor (captain), 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Brendon O’Connor, 21 Ereatara Enari, 22 Fergus Burke, 23 Sevu Reece.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Solomone Kata, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Ryan Lonergan, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Rory Scott, 6 Henry Stowers, 5 Nick Frost, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Harry Lloyd, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Tom Hooper, 20 Luke Reimer, 21 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Mack Hansen.
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant referees: James Doleman, Dan Waenga
TMO: Glenn Newman
- Additional reporting by @rugby365com