Super Rugby champions Crusaders returned to action with their trademark efficiency Sunday when they put away the Hurricanes 39-25 in New Zealand’s domestic version of the competition.
It was five tries to one for the visiting Crusaders, whose performance was blighted only by a high penalty count.
The Crusaders are the dominant side in the southern hemisphere club championship, winning it for the past three seasons, and were again looking the side to beat before Super Rugby was halted by the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.
They had a bye when the five New Zealand sides launched their own tournament called “Super Rugby Aotearoa” last week, in front of unrestricted crowds.
But despite being sidelined for more than three months they were immediately into their stride and scored inside two minutes against a Hurricanes side desperate to bounce back from their loss last week to the Auckland Blues.
All Blacks wing Sevu Reece dived over in the corner after a brilliant handling move that started from a stolen lineout and swept more than 70 metres downfield with backs and forwards involved.
Thanks to a succession of penalties, the Hurricanes stayed in touch for much of the game and were level at 25-25 with 10 minutes to play, before the Crusaders found another gear and sealed the match with two late tries.
“Our discipline was pretty poor in the first half,” Crusaders captain Codie Taylor said.
“We gave away countless penalties and a yellow card and that’s something we have to look at. Against New Zealand teams you can’t afford to do that.”
Hurricanes skipper TJ Perenara said the Crusaders’ precision could not be faulted.
“They pounced on opportunities in the first half … and scored off all of them which is a sign of a quality team,” he said.
“In the second half we got ourselves in the hunt, it was 25-all at one point, but we gave away a couple of penalties and ended up at the other end.”
At half-time, the Crusaders led 19-15 from three tries, two of them converted, to four penalties and a drop goal by Jackson Garden-Bachop for the Hurricanes.
After Garden-Bachop landed another penalty soon after half-time when Jack Goodhue was sent to the sin bin, the Crusaders tightened their discipline and restricted the Hurricanes to a sole try while scoring two more of their own.
For the Crusaders, Reece, Braydon Ennor, Goodhue, Richie Mo’unga and David Havili all scored tries. Mo’unga landed four conversions and two penalties.
The Hurricanes points came from a try to Asafo Aumua while Garden-Bachop kicked five penalties, a drop goal and a conversion.