Crusaders still the team to beat
PRE-SEASON ACTION: The Crusaders gave an early indication that they are again the team to beat in Super Rugby, despite missing a rash of the All Black stars.
The Crusaders cruched the Hurricanes 34-19 in their first-hit-out – at the Levin Domain on Saturday.
The Crusaders are going to be without captain Sam Whitelock and All Blacks skipper Kieran Read, for the first four rounds of their title defence, while hooker Codie Taylor is also set for an extended breather.
Under instruction from All Blacks management, Taylor will miss the Crusaders’ season-opener against the Blues at Eden Park on February 16, followed by their home-opener against the Hurricanes in Christchurch the following week.
The fortnight off is in addition to the two mandatory games All Blacks are required to sit out this season, meaning Whitelock and Read are set to miss at least half a dozen of the Crusaders’ 16 regular season fixtures.
Both teams were missing a host of frontline All Blacks for the outing in Levin.
However, when the teams were at something resembling full strength in the first half, the Crusaders had the better of the play – taking a comfortable 19-7 lead into the break.
The second half saw the teams make widespread changes, including wider squad members and club players, rendering much of what happened thereafter irrelevant.
The Crusaders bagged three more tries to the Hurricanes’ two.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said there was room for improvement, despite the big win.
“There are a couple of key areas we need to tidy up, the defensive edge was one of them, and they went through the middle of us, but generally the big boulders were great,” Robertson told Stuff.
“It’s quite unique us getting a win in pre-season.
“The score is some reflection of the game, we managed to create quite a few opportunities, but more importantly our scramble defence was good and some individuals showed how good they are, and how hard it’s going to be to pick a team.
“Clean sheet on the inventory list with injuries, so that’s great.
“Everyone got a good amount of gametime, at least 40 minutes,” he added.
Hurricanes coach John Plumtree said he was mainly relieved to get through the match without any injury concerns.
“It was the perfect hitout,” Plumtree told Stuff.
“The Crusaders are such a tough outfit, so for us it was good. It was good to see some of our young players under that sort of pressure to see how they would react to it.
“Your set piece has got to be functioning really well, otherwise you don’t get the ball that you want.
“They put us under pressure there at times and in the breakdown as well. We had our moments, but I think if you look at the pressure game as a whole, they probably won that battle.”
Thank You Levin. pic.twitter.com/mDH3ehIcp6
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) February 2, 2019