Back-to-back champs the Crusaders cruise to another win
IF SOMEONE has an answer to stop the back-to-back Super Rugby champions they better produce something soon.
The Crusaders are unbeaten in 19 matches after smashing domestic rivals the Chiefs 57-28 in Christchurch, and have had four straight wins to start 2019.
Along the way, the Crusaders have knocked off three of their domestic rivals, including huge wins over the Hurricanes and Chiefs.
The Crusaders led the Chiefs 33-7 at half-time after running in five tries, including a first-half brace to electric fullback Will Jordan.
They finished the match with nine tries.
Their opponents ran in two late tries to add some respectability to the scoreboard, but it was another embarrassing display from the proud Chiefs, who have started the season with four straight losses - their worst start to a season since 2007.
Making the Cruasders' start to 2019 all the more remarkable is the fact they've done so without a number of their Test stars, with Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock still yet to play any rugby in 2019.
Joining the star All Blacks duo on the sidelines this week was Owen Franks and Matt Todd, while Joe Moody left the field in the opening minutes after picking up a leg injury.
Despite missing so many first-choice players, stand-in captain Ryan Crotty said he was always confident that they would continue on their winning ways.
"Yeah, I did (think we would put in a performance like that)," Crotty said.
"It was an exciting week. We had a lot of guys get an opportunity for the first time, but they had earnt that opportunity.
"You saw the talent that was on show - some of the individual skill sets from those men was awesome. It creates great competition for spots in the starting XV."
Indeed, it does.
Just how they squeeze All Blacks David Havili, George Bridge and barnstorming winger Manasa Mataele back into the starting side is coach Scott Robertson's biggest concern.
For the Chiefs, their season doesn't get any easier and they next face the Hurricanes at home before a tricky tour of South Africa against the Bulls and Jaguares in Argentina.
Captain Brodie Retallick said he was pleased with his side's effort despite the loss.
"Although the scoreboard is the same as the last few weeks, I thought our intensity was a lot better and that's what we wanted to turn up with some brutality," Retallick said.
"We got beaten around the ruck the last couple of weeks, so it was a top effort from there.
"But still, we're making some little system and individual errors and letting in soft tries.
"I thought we built pressure well when we did hold the ball, but, again, we just didn't hold the ball at crucial times to build pressure and convert it to points and against a team like the Crusaders they're going to punish you."
The Chiefs were expected to rebound after their shock loss to the Sunwolves last week and the return of All Blacks Anton Lienert-Brown, Nathan Harris and Nepo Laulala was only likely to help their case.
But early on the Chiefs simply gifted possession to the Crusaders, with playmaker Damian McKenzie guilty of aimless chip kicks.
Indeed, after the initial try to Braydon Ennor, McKenzie's ball-playing skills were found out again as Sevu Reece pounced on a cut-out pass and intercepted to score.
The Chiefs hit back through backrower Taleni Seu.
But his try was quickly cancelled out as Will Jordan split the Chiefs' defence after a beautifully executed set-piece play from a scrum.
A try to hooker Andrew Makalio and Jordan's second opened the game right up for the Crusaders at half-time.
The home side continued on their merry way in the second half, with Michael Alaalatoa crashing over from close range.
Exciting winger Etene Nanai-Seturo once again showed off his flourishing finishing skills shortly after.
But when replacement hooker Codie Taylor found space out wide to score the first of two tries in seven minutes and Bryn Hall finished off another length of the field try, the Crusaders were racking up a cricket score.
Former Rebels playmaker Jack Debreczeni and Mitch Brown scored late tries for the Chiefs.