Pablo Matera was one of the Crusaders’ best during the 37-26 win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
At GIO Stadium, Canberra: Crusaders 37 (Codie Taylor try 8min, Sevu Reece try 14min, Bryn Hall 56min, Will Jordan try 65min; Richie Mo’unga 4 con, Mo’unga 3 pen)
brumbies 26 (Irae Simone try 4min, 47min, Folau Fainga’a 60min, Tom Wright 72min; Nic White con, Ryan Lonergan 2 con) HT: 23-5.
No-one could say the Crusaders are a generous lot.
Not when pride, competition points and trans-Tasman bragging rights were at stake, as was the case before they marched into GIO Stadium at Canberra to beat the Brumbies 37-26 on Friday night.
This encounter at GIO Stadium was billed as a collision of Super Rugby Pacific’s giants, a fair advertisement given the Brumbies had beaten the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders in previous weeks, but the Crusaders were in no mood to become their fourth New Zealand victim in as many weeks.
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It was almost as if coach Scott Robertson had instructed his Crusaders players to invite the Brumbies to have a look into the inner workings of the machine and when they did, they couldn’t stomach staring at the screaming, grinding cogs that throb under the bonnet.
The Crusaders didn’t start well, they conceded an early try to Brumbies midfielder Irae Simone in the fourth minute, but that just seemed to anger then; Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece scored tries in the first half, with Richie Mo’unga banging over the conversions and three penalties in the first spell to bring up 1000 points in Super Rugby.
Ahead 23-5 at the break, the Crusaders trotted to the sheds knowing they could win this if they kept using the tool that frightens all their opponents when they get their execution right: physicality.
The beauty of this Crusaders effort was how their forwards did their best to imitate low flying gliders in the moment before they crashed into the rucks.
Low, fast and seemingly without any concern for their own health and safety, the Kiwis’ body position was excellent as they bashed their way into the Aussies.
That, combined with the swift defensive line, rattled the Brumbies who failed to build pressure through phases because of unforced errors and an inability to deal with the Crusaders kick-heavy strategy.
You have to give the Brumbies their dues, though.
A fightback in the dying minutes must have given Robertson a fright up in the coach’s box, especially when Brumbies wing Tom Wright scored a try.
The Crusaders, however, simply dug in their heels and defended like devils, and as it happened, denied the home side a precious losing bonus point.
How important will that be, come the playoffs? Don’t be surprised if we see these two sides meet in the semis.
the big moment
The Crusaders scored 23 unanswered points in the first half after conceding the early try to Simone. The visitors led 23-5 at halftime and although Simone scored soon after the break, the Brumbies, through their inability to deal with the pressure – internal and external – malfunctioned as the minutes ticked by.
Not quite the close encounter many predicted – or hoped for – but fair play to the Crusaders, who were too efficient against a Brumbies side that would have been disappointed with its high error rate.
Highlanders blow away Force with first-half try blitz
The big picture
The Crusaders, who hadn’t lost to the Brumbies since 2009, remain third on the competition log on 43 points. The Brumbies (43) are still above them, in second, on points differential. The Blues remain on top, on 45.
Pablo Matera might have been fortunate not to get done for a rough tackle early in the second half but no-one could question his determination, or commitment.