The Crusaders answered their critics in Johannesburg on Saturday as they beat the Lions 28-7 at Ellis Park, scoring three tries.
The Crusaders answered their critics in Johannesburg on Saturday as they defeated the Lions 28-7 at Ellis Park, scoring three tries in the contest.
It was by no means a complete performance by the seven-time champions, but they were up against the least experienced side in Super Rugby and at the end composure played a huge role in the final result.
While there were a number of laudable performances by the Lions – skipper Warren Whiteley and fellow loose forward Willie Britz played their hearts out – it became clear that the team who returned to Super Rugby this year are at least three super stars short of becoming realistic title contenders.
Neither of the sides managed to score a try in the first 40, but one always had the impression that the home side's defence would not be able to deal with the flair and variation the Crusaders bring to the game when presented with quality first-phase ball.
Throughout the opening stanza the Crusaders' inability to convert quality field position into points continued to be their downfall, but at least this week Todd Blackadder's men were far more effective in defence.
The initial onslaught came from the visitors, but they had to settle for points through the boot of Colin Slade despite having so many great attacking platforms to score from.
That changed in the second half as when captain Ryan Crotty dived over for his team's first try.
At that stage his men were ahead 6-0 and relying heavily on Lions mistakes to get on the front foot.
And mistakes there were a plenty.
While accuracy at set-phase played a huge role in the four wins the pride of Johannesburg have recorded thus far, they were often unable to secure the ball at line-out time and this resulted in the visitors being given multiple opportunities to relieve pressure more often than their hosts would have liked.
The effect of the Lions' abysmal work at the line-outs, where hooker Willie Wepener constantly failed to hit the target, was only overshadowed by a number of core inefficiencies at the breakdowns where George Whitelock had a field day.
The Lions struggled to protect their own ball and it took a brilliant break by Britz to get them into the area of the field from where they would score their first, and only, try of the match.
Centre Lionel Mapoe finished dotted down to give the hosts some sort of sniff at a comeback, but those hopes were dashed when Crotty dived over for his disallowed second.
In what could be a first for Super Rugby, referee Marius van der Westhuizen overturned his original decision a Crotty's try was good, called the players back and awarded a scrum after Whiteley saved the day with a telling tackle.
This did not dampen spirits in the Crusaders camp as Andy Ellis put the match out of reach in the 72nd minute when the Lions again coughed up ball at the breakdown.
Although managing to get within touch through a penalty conversion by Marnitz Boshoff, the true class of the Crusader shone through when centre Kieron Fonotia cruised over for the last score of the game.
One of the only positives the Lions will take from the match is the sturdy work their forwards did at scrum-time.
The Crusaders will view this as a step closer to playing the brand of rugby that has made them one of the most feared and respected teams in world rugby.
Tries: Crotty, Ellis, Fonotia
Con: Slade, Bleyendaal 2
Pen: Slade 2, Dagg
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 0Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 CornÃ© Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross CronjÃ©, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 JW Jonker.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Nemani Nadolo, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Tom Taylor.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
By Michael Mentz