The Crusaders were in sensational form, running in 13 tries in a 85-26 victory over the Rebels in Christchurch on Saturday.
With the Rebels defence dead on their feet, the game was a try festival from start to finish, with Johnny McNicholl rewarded with a hat-trick for the Crusaders.
The win means the Crusaders kept the pressure on the Chiefs at the top of the Australasian Conference table. The men from Christchurch now have 50 points which is one less than their New Zealand rivals and both sides have played 14 matches.
The Rebels are third in the Australian Conference with 27 points after the same number of matches.
The Crusaders’ dominance started from the kick off and they were rewarded with five tries inside the opening quarter. First, Sam Whitelock got over for the opening try in his 100th appearance for the seven-time champions, when he dived over from close quarters after the groundwork was laid by Jimmy Tupou, who charged down and regathered a Jack Debreczeni clearance kick.
Shortly afterwards, Ryan Crotty went over the whitewash after Matt Todd did well to win a turnover close to the Rebels’ 22, before Nemani Nadolo went on a barnstorming run down the left-hand touchline before offloading to Scott Barrett, who dotted down in the ninth minute.
The Rebels were in disarray and battled to cope with the power and intensity displayed by their hosts. In the 13th minute Alex Hodgman powered over from close quarters before Nadolo got in on the scoring act, rounding off a flowing passage of play started by Israel Dagg close to the halfway line.
For the first time Richie Mo’unga missed with his conversion attempt which meant the score was 33-0 to the Crusaders after just over 20 minutes.
The Crusaders continued to dominate and in the 27th minute when Johnny McNicholl ran onto a long pass from David Havili before gliding through a gaping hole in the visitors defence before crossing for his side’s sixth try.
The Rebels seemed shell-shocked and needed a moment of magic from Sefa Naivalu to awaken them from their slumber. The flyer set off on a blistering run, from close to his 10-metre line, and beat several defenders before offloading to Nic Stirzaker, who crossed for their first try in the 36th minute.
Their joy was short-lived, however, as on the stroke of half-time Crotty crossed for his second try, after Todd and Mo’unga did well in the build-up, which meant the Crusaders were cruising at 43-7 at the interval.
The carnage continued in the second half and within five minutes of the restart Codie Taylor had crossed for two deserved tries. The first off a line-out drive in the Rebels’ 22 and the second after running on to a well-timed pass from Andy Ellis.
Taylor then turned provider as he put Pete Samo in the clear with a delightful offload before Reece Hodge struck back with the Rebels’ second try in the 52nd minute.
McNicholl crossed for his second try in the 64th minute, after good work from Samo in the build-up, and two minutes later Matt Todd set off on a blistering run from the halfway mark for his side’s 12.
The Rebels tried gallantly to fight back and were eventually rewarded when Cullum Retallick burrowed his way over the whitewash in the 70th minute and, shortly before the end, Naivalu rounded off a fine counter-attack in the right-hand corner before McNicholl added the final nail in the visitors’ coffin with his third try just before full-time.
Tries: Stirzaker, Hodge, Retallick, Naivalu
Cons: Debreczeni 3
Tries: McNicholl 3, Crotty 2, Taylor 2, Whitelock, Hodgman, Barrett, Nadolo, Todd, Samo
Cons: Mo’unga 7, Nadolo 3
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Jimmy Tupou, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alalaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samo, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Kieran Fonotia
Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Sam Jeffries, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Jonah Placid
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser, Angus Mabey
TMO: Aaron Paterson