16 May 2017

Crusaders prove they're title contenders

6:49 am on 16 May 2017

Saturday night's 20-12 victory over the defending champion Hurricanes was one of the Crusaders' biggest statements in recent years.

Crusaders players celebrate as full-time is called in the 20-12 win over the Hurricanes.

Crusaders players celebrate as full-time is called in the 20-12 win over the Hurricanes. Photo: PhotoSport

They may have been favourites at the TAB but pundits across the country had written off the Red and Blacks before the game even got underway in Christchurch.

Under their former coaching regime, the Crusaders attack lacked imagination and was far too lateral, however in just half a season Scott Roberston has proven his side can match the creativity of the other New Zealand franchises and last night was no exception.

While there's no disputing the Hurricanes have possibly the most potent backline in the competition, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Seta Tamanivalu and Richie Mo'unga all produced moments of brilliance on both attack and defence for the Crusaders.

A perfect example was Crotty and Goodhue's workload in the second half.

In the first half, Hurricanes second five Ngani Laumape clearly had the upper hand, finding his way through, over and around the Crusaders' defence.

In the second half, he struggled to find his way past the brick wall of Crotty and Goodhue - though he was still the Hurricanes' top metre eater with 60 from 11 carrries.

On attack, first-five Richie Mo'unga's cross field kick was a thing of beauty and it clearly took the Hurricanes by surprise given it's been one of their deadliest weapons in recent weeks.

Beauden Barrett  looks on from the sin bin after being yellow carded.

Beauden Barrett had a rare off night for Hurricanes. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Breaking down the statistics, the Crusaders had fewer carries than the Hurricanes but ran over 100 metres further.

The hosts also had fewer passes and offloads but beat their defenders 24 times compared to the Hurricanes 15.

And they tackled less, only 80 times compared to the Hurricanes 107 and missed fewer tackles, just 15 to the Hurricanes 24.

That was all while the Crusaders had more territory and possession.

Beauden Barrett was one player who felt the wrath of social media last night for his game, or lack of it. While the world's best player did have an off night, it was because the Crusaders' rush defence did an excellent job of shutting him down.

But as always, where the game was really won was up front. The Crusaders forwards put on a masterclass at the set piece and breakdown.

They won all of five of their scrums and were a nuisance when the Hurricanes packed down on attack.

The Crusaders' use of the rolling maul was at its dominant best - and they were rewarded for it - with the only try of the night going to captain and Super Rugby centurion Matt Todd.

To leave the Hurricanes tryless is one statistic that also shouldn't go unnoticed.

It's the first time a team has managed to do that since 2014 and that speaks volumes about both how impressive the Crusaders' defence was and how much of an off night the Hurricanes had.

Referee Jaco Peyper's interpretation of the rulebook will once again leave people scratching their heads but both sides had their share of luck points throughout the night.

Next for the Crusaders it's the Chiefs, who would've been watching that game closely as they prepare for what promises to be another New Zealand derby thriller in Suva on Friday night.

As for the Hurricanes, they're back home at Wellington Stadium where they'll face the Cheetahs, who'll no doubt be on the receiving end of the mother-of-all redemptions.