It was new rules but the same old equation as the Crusaders started their quest for a seventh Super rugby title with a convincing 34-3 win over the Brumbies in Christchurch on Friday night where veteran Leon MacDonald and glamour signing Ali Williams showed their class.
And this was a victory that could have been so much larger for the red and blacks on the scoreboard. Report courtesy of Duncan Johnstone, www.rugbyheaven.co.nz.
They made clever use of the added space available under the Experimental Law Variations and only some untimely rain and slippery conditions prevented them from truly demolishing the Brumbies.
Handling errors meant botched tries early in both halves and even Williams was guilty of one of those, losing the ball over the line.
But that couldn’t detract from a powerful display by both the Crusaders and their imported Auckland and All Blacks lock as they capped it off a good night’s work with a bonus point try in the final minute.
Last year was a disappointing one for the Crusaders as they were denied so many stars and eventually fell over in the semifinals. They look like they are out to make up for that in 2008. This was a performance full of energy and promise.
It’s going to take a while for us to adjust to the sight of Williams in Crusaders colours just as it is going to take time to accept the ELVs.
But Williams looked pumped for his southern debut and both teams appeared genuine in their attempts to play an expansive game that the alterations allow.
The Crusaders are in a rebuilding phase if there is such a thing in Christchurch these days. Clever acquisitions like Williams help as does the return of old favourite Brad Thorn. He came back from another three-year stint with the Brisbane Broncos to partner Williams in the second row.
But there are 11 new Crusaders on the scene this year and some promising ones in that mix. Right wing Kade Poki had a busy introduction and should have capped his debut with a try, only to be hit by the handling jitters.
Yet, as should be expected, it was some of the older hands that set up this win agaisnt a side that ahs consistently been the best of the Australians.
Dan Carter might not have had the greatest of seasons last year by his lofty standards but he looked eager and accomplished in this season-opener and formed a promising partnership with Stephen Brett, who made a reasonable job of his shift to second five-eighths.
MacDonald, playing his 100th game in this championship, was refreshed and full of running – two attributes needed for fullbacks at this stage of the season because they face plenty of work under the new kicking laws designed to keep the ball in play.
It was MacDonald’s injection that set up the first try to Mose Tuiali’i who was eventually on the end of an overlap to crash over in the corner.
With Carter added the extras and an early penalty the Crusaders led 10-3 at the break.
Tuiali’i got the second try not long after the restart although it was by more old-fashioned means as he put his head down and charged hard to the line.
Thorn did something similar at the start of the fourth quarter to give hope of a bonus point and that came with the last movement of the match when MacDonald chimed in again to set up Carter for the icing.
The Crusaders looked better for the second half appearance of All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis while skipper Richie McCaw was into everything as usual.
Despite the massive scoreline this was far from a perfect performance from the former champions but it was promising given the new feel to everything.
They were guilty of pushing things a little under the wet conditions. But those passes will soon stick and they are about to head to South Africa where the hard and fast grounds should suit their commitment to attack.
The Brumbies didn’t look entirely comfortable having to abandon their old recycling game. They simply didn’t make enough good use of their adequate share of possession to threaten.
When they were dragged into scrum confrontations by the Crusaders they were on the back foot and they never managed to handle the powerful mauling game of the red and black pack.
They also struck more injury problems where they needed them least – in the midfield. They already have regular skipper Stirling Mortlock missing and now Adam Ashley-Cooper and Gene Fairbanks have joined him on the casualty list.
Asked how he thought his side went under the new rules and the conditions, McCaw shrugged his shoulders, smiled and answered: “It just seemed like business as usual.”
Looking at the scoreboard no one could argue.
Crusaders 34: Mose Tuiali’i 2, Brad Thorn, Dan Carter tries; Dan Carter 4 con, 2 pen.
Brumbies 3: Julian Huxley pen.
Our man of the match: We have to give this to Leon MacDonald for his part in two crucial tries – the first and the last – as he capped of a magical 100th appearance. Forgotten All Black Mose Tuiali’i put his hand up early in the season the new locking partnership of Ali Williams and Brad Thorn looks highly promising.
Key moment: Thorn’s surge to the line from close range gave the Crusaders three tries and sent them searching for a bonus point. That came in the final minute with Dan Carter touching down to round of a good night in the south.
Ramifications: It’s early days but the Crusaders hop on the plane to Africa reasonably content as they prepare to take on the champion Bulls next week. They have five points on the board and no major injuries. The Brumbies have no points and several injuries as they head home to host the Highlanders.Tweet