The Crusaders got their 2008 Super 14 campaign off to an emphatic start on Friday, winning the opening game of the tournament 34-3 against the Brumbies at AMI Stadium .
The Crusaders got their 2008 Super 14 campaign off to an emphatic start on Friday, winning the opening game of the tournament 34-3 against the Brumbies at AMI Stadium and grabbing a bonus point with the final move of the game.
Mose Tuiali'i was the chief architect of the Brumbies' demise, weighing in with the first two tries in appaling underfoot conditions in Christchurch.
There was so much expectation for this match – the start of the 2008 Super 14, the two teams historically have fared the best in Super Rugby, new law changes with the promise of entertaining rugby – so much to look forward to. Too much, in a way, for what happened was a bit of a damp squib.
First of all there was the rain. The drought on South Island broke by the bucketful. The ground was soaked, there was standing water and occasionally the rain came down.
Instead of the glamour of a great stadium packed with enthusiastic fans there was a building site, partly populated by people in the rain. Not even the communication systems the match officials use worked well, which is unlike the smooth organisation that goes with Super Rugby.
Instead of a great contest between these two teams, it was really a one-sided match. The Crusaders scored all the tries, dominated possession and territory, were too strong in the scrums, were much better in the line-outs and handled with greater skill and confidence.
Afterwards Richie McCaw said that he did not think that the law changes had had an effect. “It was business as usual out there,” he said. George Smith said that it had produced a fast game that “takes getting used to.”
Certainly the most obvious change was the increase in the number of free kicks. There were 10 penalties in the match but 15 free kicks, nine of them at the tackle/ruck which would have been penalties under the “old” laws. In the second half the Crusaders were not penalised once.
There may well have been a lot more kicking, but whether that was due to the weather or the ELVs is uncertain.
The Crusaders had the first chance to score when Huia Edmunds overthrew a line-out five metres from his line. McCaw got the ball but lost it to the Brumbies in the tackle.
The first penalty came after 13 minutes when young Christian Lealiifano came into a tackle from the side – not “through the gate”. Dan Carter goaled for a 3-0 lead. Carter's kicking was again superb in the wet, barring one easy chance that was missed late in the second half. Carter's first penalty opened the scoring for the 2008 Super 14.
When Ali Williams, a new Crusader, was penalised for an air tackle (“crushing”) in a line-out Julian Huxley did well to goal a long kick. That made it 3-all which was a surprise as the Brumbies had had little of the game.
The Crusaders lost a golden opportunity to score. A clever Carter kick – and he did several in the match – took them into Brumby territory where the Crusaders won the line-out and gave an overlap to Kade Poki on the right wing but he knocked on with about six metres to surf for the try.
The try came, thanks largely to Leon MacDonald who celebrated his 100th appearance for the Crusaders in dashing style. George Smith kicked from well within his 22 but only as far as Scott Hamilton near the touch-line on his left. He gave to MacDonald who ran. He beat three men on the treacherous surface and then gave the most marvellous, old-fashioned swing pass to Ali Williams on his right. From the tackle/ruck the ball went right where Casey Laulala sent a wonderful cut-out pass to McCaw who straightened and sent Mose Tuiali'i in for the first of his two tries. Carter converted from touch. 10-3 after 33 minutes. That was the first try and the first conversion for the 2008 Super 14.
Just before half-time Tyrone Smith, on for Adam Ashley-Cooper who was helped off with a painful ankle, forced his way ahead and gave a simple pass to Mark Gerrard who had the line at his mercy but knocked on.
When McCaw made a charge down the left Williams was over but the television match official was able to advise that he had lost the ball forward in the grounding. Communicating with the TMO proved difficult for the referee and he had to have a runner bring him the decision. The process annoyed the crowd more than the negative decision did!
The Crusaders laid siege to the Brumbies' line. They put the ball through phases and then gave it to Tuiali'i who bullocked ahead, through four defenders to plonk the ball over the line for the try. Carter converted. 17-3 after 51 minutes.
There was a desultory period after this in which the Crusaders dominated and, even in the wet, destroyed the Brumbies scrum. Carter missed two kicks at goal in this period but then goaled one.
Back came the Crusaders. Andrew Ellis broke and gave to Carter who grubbered ahead. The Brumbies just got there before Hamilton but carried over, producing a five-metre scrum. The Crusaders bashed and eventually Brad Thorn detached from a maul, charged and scored. 27-3 with nine minutes to go.
The Crusaders did their phases again and kept going right till MacDonald carved through a gap, drew Huxley and passed a perfect pass to Carter who ran through to score a try which he converted. The final whistle went.
Man of the Match: Not just because he had posted his century but it had to be Leon MacDonald for a performance of the highest quality that simply ignored any effort the weather could have done to make him look ordinary. He was great on defence and astonishing on attack.
Moment of the Match: That pass in that first try of the 2008 Super 14 – Leon MacDonald's perfect pass to Ali Williams.
Villain of the Match: Nobody. It was an honourable match – unless you consider whoever was responsible for the communication system for the match officials.
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Tuiali'i 2, Thorn, Carter
Cons: Carter 4
Pens: Carter 2
For the Brumbies:
Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Stephen Brett, 11 Scott Hamilton, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Richard McCaw (captain), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Paterson, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Andrew Ellis, 21 Tim Bateman, 22 Sean Maitland.
Brumbies: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Gene Fairbanks, 11 Peter Playford, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joshua Holmes, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 George Smith (captain), 6 Jone Tawake, 5 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 4 Alister Campbell, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa 17 Salesi Ma'afu 18 Peter Kimlin 19 Julian Salvi 20 Patrick Phibbs 21 Tyrone Smith 22 Francis Fainifo.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)