Herald on Sunday
Crusaders’ body of work good but side left lost for words
After the final whistle, it was hard to know by the Crusaders’ body language that they had easily beaten the Rebels.
The Crusaders needed to win by 33 points or more at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney to overtake the Highlanders on the ladder and ensure a spot in the Super Rugby transtasman final. They could manage only a 26-point margin.
Wing Sevu Reece picked up a hattrick but admitted the win felt like a loss.
“We will take the win but at the same time a lot of heads are down; there's some not so happy boys out there,” Reece said afterwards.
The Crusaders came out of the blocks fast, applying the pressure on the Rebels’ defensive line almost immediately. After charging down an attempted clearing kick and securing the ball, the Crusaders probed for a gap from deep inside the Rebels’ 22 and, after several phases, halfback Mitchell Drummond snuck over beside the ruck in the third minute.
Just two minutes later, fullback Will Jordan strolled over and the Crusaders’ led 14-0 after six minutes.
After the initial shock, the Rebels found their feet and began to have some success with the ball in their own hands. They hit back through lock Trevor Hosea, who ran a great line from close range and was too strong for the Crusaders defence.
While the Rebels were on the board, it still felt like the Crusaders were primed to put on a big score given their willingness to move the ball through the hands and take aggressive options from their penalties.
They extended the lead once more through Leicester Fainga’anuku on the 20-minute mark, when he capitalised off a speculative overhead pass from Manasa Mataele who was being driven into touch. Reece went across the line on the next passage of play, and again the
Crusaders looked set to push on with the job.
But just every time they looked to pull away, the Rebels kept Highlanders fans on tenterhooks by staying just close enought. Halfback Joe Powell closed the gap to 14 at halftime. It should have been 21 but for a bizarre incident where Braydon Ennor dropped the ball with no defender in sight and the goalline wide open.
For much of the second half, it seemed that every time the Crusaders looked to put the foot down and run away with it, they would open the door and let the Rebels back in.
They continued to score tries, with two more for Reece and tries to Oli Jager and Ennor in the second half. The Melbourne club didn’t have a lot of opportunities in the second half, but made the most of those they did have with Glen Vaihu and Frank Lomani scoring to keep the Highlanders ever hopeful.
A late onslaught from the Crusaders looked to have delivered the missing piece of the points puzzle but Fainga’anuku had a try disallowed for double movement.
Crusaders 52 (Sevu Reece 3, Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Oli Jager, Braydon Ennor tries; Richie Mo’unga 6 cons) Rebels 26 (Trevor Hosea, Joe Powell, Glen Vaihu, Frank Lomani tries; Carter Gordon 3 con). HT: 26-12.