Can they be beaten on their way to the title? When? And by Whom?
These are valid questions after a wonderful game of rugby convincingly won 38-14 by Crusaders who were unstoppable on their home field in Christchurch against the Highlanders on Friday.
Faultless this first Super quarterfinal of 2019 certainly wasn’t, but both teams showed how lovely and intriguing the game of rugby can be as they swung the ball wide, changed direction on the run, gave try-winning short kicks.
And with 12 other All Blacks in the Saders starting side, the 13th was the real star of the show in a team that was really impressive: Richie Mo'unga
The first half was a close affair, and the defending champions led the Highlanders by a single penalty, 17-14, after two good tries each.
Crusaders kept their composure under much pressure the motivated and good Highlanders team.
But Crusaders started the second half with a new resolve and ruhlessness and had matters under control although there was no immediate addition to the scoreboard.
Then flank Liam Squires was sent off with a yellow card after 45 minutes for a tackle without using his arms, and ten minutes later the scored had advanced to 31-14 following two tries, one within three minutes after Squires departure and the next seven minutes later.
And that was that…
♦ Whereas the Highlanders controlled possession in the first half with nearly 60% of the ball coming their way, it changed in the second half when they were allowed less than 30% of possession.
It was just about the same with the territorial percentages – and the scoreboard reflected three second-half tries to the defending champions while the Highlanders were kept scoreless.
Both sides were a little shaky in the lineouts, the Highlanders more so. The scrums were rather even and there was good and effective running from both the teams.
Overall, Crusaders were slightly better in the lineouts, won more and better possession at the rucks and mauls, and missed less tackles, especially after the break.
Nice to watch, with the expected result and a good start to the weekend’s quarterfinals.
Crusaders (17) 38: Tries: David Havili, Richie Mo’unga (2), Whetu Douglas, Michael Alaalatoa. Conversions: Mo’unga (5). Penalty: Mo’unga.
Highlanders (14) 14: Tries: Sio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden. Conversions: Josh Ioane.