The Crusaders have put their Super Rugby Pacific rivals on notice with a ruthless win over the Fijian Drua to strengthen their hold on second place on the New Zealand conference ladder.
The Crusaders had a night to remember at Orangetheory Stadium, defeating the Western Force 61-3 in a Super Rugby clash. Hence, the Crusaders outperformed the Western Force 61-3 tonight at the Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch on Friday night.
The teams went into the last round even on points, with the Crusaders (9-3) having one less win but seven vital bonus points and a win over the Brumbies last Saturday.
To stay in contention, the Brumbies must defeat the first-placed Blues in Canberra on Saturday, with a loss almost ensuring a third-place finish.
This would set up a quarter-final match against the sixth-placed team, which will either be the NSW Waratahs (33 points) or the Queensland Reds (31 points).
“We’ve dug deep, looked at ourselves, our game, and started to build on the basis of Crusaders rugby,” captain Scott Barrett said after the team’s loss to the Waratahs.
“Those kinds of games stick with you forever. Last week against the Brumbies, we bounced back and had a challenge, and this was far tougher than the scoreboard implies.”
The hosting company of Drua went into the second half with renewed vigor and scored the first try in the fifty-ninth minute. The match, however, was largely dominated by the visitors who were defending efficiently, but just couldn’t punch through the opposition’s defence.
And their turnovers were punished, the Crusaders cruising with four first-half tries including a competition-high 10th for Leicester Fainga’anuku in the second minute.
Flanker Tom Christie and Fijian-born All Blacks star Sevu Reece both scored two tries, while Fergus Burke, who replaced Richie Mo’unga at No.10, scored a touchdown and converted all but one conversion.
The Drua, based predominantly in northern NSW in their debut season, finish a campaign next weekend that’s yielded two wins against the Chiefs while the Crusaders host the Reds. The home team was comfortable 24-7 victors and a second-half rally by Queensland (26-24) proved in vain for those keeping an eye on the Australian conference.
“Definitely not our night,” Drua captain Nemani Nagusa remarked, “but the important thing is to learn from it against a champion side like the Crusaders.”
“You blow a few of chances, and you pay the price. But we’ll conclude the season against the Chiefs and return stronger the following year.”