The Crusaders extended their winning streak to four matches when they hammered the Brumbies 40-20 in Christchurch on Saturday.
The victory was also the fourth in a row for the Crusaders over the Brumbies and provisionally moves them to the top of the New Zealand Super Rugby conference.
The Crusaders lost three of their first five matches including two at home but have now recovered and are unbeaten since the end of March when they lost to the Hurricanes at home in Christchurch.
Although the try count was only three-two in favour of the seven-time champions, the win in Christchurch – against the Australian conference leaders – allowed the Crusaders to move back into the top six.
After a scrappy start, the first half-hour producing only penalties, the Crusaders burst into life with a late first-half try and two more after the break as they dismantled the visitors in clinical fashion.
The Crusaders lost three players to injury inside the opening quarter – with Matt Todd, Kieron Fonotia and replacement Tom Taylor all being replaced.
However, this did not seem to disrupt the home team.
Coming off a bye the Crusaders looked more energetic in the opening quarter, while the Brumbies also played into their hands by engaging the home side in a kicking game – which the Crusaders clearly won.
After the break the Brumbies changed tactics somewhat, keeping the ball more in hand.
It brought initial reward, but their own high error count and lack of discipline was their undoing – as they kept handing momentum back to the Crusaders.
The visitors made a strong start to the second half, keeping the ball through the phases and getting enough passes to stick – Stephan Moore at the end of a well-worked try, which included the hooker stepping Israel Dagg on his way to the tryline. White’s conversion made it 13-22.
Sade responded with a sixth penalty, before Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo benefitted from a charged down kick – lock Sam Whitelock’s face getting in the way of an attempted clearance – for the flyer to collect the favourable bounce and sprint over.
Slade was wide with the conversion and a long-range penalty soon afterwards, but added his seventh penalty to make it 33-13 going into the final quarter.
The backdoor was opened ever so slightly with just over 10 minutes remaining, when Crusaders replacement Luke Romano was yellow carded for repeated infringements at the breakdown – a collection of team offences, rather than an individual transgression.
However, the Brumbies’ inability to get themselves back into the game as illustrated when they set up a line-out and then a maul, only to cough up the ball. That was followed by another turnover soon after, after a build-up of phases that brought them to within 10 metres of the Crusaders line.
The Crusaders rubbed salt into those festering Brumbies wounds when they scored a third try after winning a turnover and Luke Whitelock pounced on a ball that was hacked ahead. Willie Heinz added the conversion to make it 40-13.
There was enough time for Pat McCabe to grab a consolation try for the Brumbies, Matt Toomua adding the extras to make the final score 40-20 in favour of the home team
Final Score Crusaders 40 (22) Brumbies 20 (6)
Tries – J. McNicholl, N, Nadolo, L.Whitelock
Pen – C.Slade 7
Con – C.Slade, W.Heinz
Cards – L.Romano (68th min yellow)
Tries – S.Moore. P.McCabe
Pen – N.White 2
Con – C.Lealiffano 2