Slade slays Brumbies
Colin Slade kicked 23 points as the Crusaders ran three tries past an ill-disciplined Brumbies outfit to win 40-20 in Christchurch.
This was another feather in the cap for Todd Blackadder's side, whose recent form makes them one of the best sides in the whole competition.
Poorly disciplined and outmuscled in the contact area, the Brumbies were always chasing this one and lacked the clinical edge required in the second half to get back into the game.
The Brumbies' decimation of the Chiefs last weekend in Canberra understandably handed them a big confidence boost, but they were too lackadaisical in Christchurch early on.
On the other hand the Crusaders have built quietly this season after a shocking start, but their own 18-17 victory over the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago confirmed their revival.
First-half physicality was key to the Crusaders building up their 22-6 lead by the break.
The home team were better in the contact area, bossed the breakdown and prevented the Brumbies from running the ball through a territorial kicking game from Andy Ellis and Colin Slade that worked well.
Penalties were frequent in the opening half, with even Richie McCaw being picked up for a ruck offence by referee Glen Jackson. McCaw turned in an eyecatching performance by making the most tackles for his side and playing a full 80.
Slade's kicking off the tee was perfect in the first 40 minutes as his side lead 15-6 a couple of minutes before the interval, when Johnny McNicholl struck.
Patient build-up around the Brumbies' 22 ended with a pass from Sam Whitelock out wide to McNicholl, who jinked his way inside and drove over low for the try.
The Brumbies just had to respond and they looked like a different team in the beginning of the second half with Stephen Moore's try - the Wallaby hooker stepping his way over from close range after his team upped the ante.
It was a handy reminder for the Crusaders that the job wasn't done. Slade added his sixth penalty following a collapsed scrum on the edge of the 22.
A stroke of luck helped their cause. The Brumbies were pressed back inside their half and when forced to kick, through Toomua, there was a classic Superman dive from Sam Whitelock to charge down the ball, Nemani Nadolo scooping up and running home to score.
The Brumbies penalty count was killing their chances, reaching ten by the 58-minute mark, but Slade spared them further punishment with a missed penalty.
He didn't have to wait long for another chance as Sam Carter went offside; Slade landing his seventh of the night.
Facing a 20-point deficit the Brumbies had to hit back, but it was slow going. Their driving maul threatened but the final pass or surge was always missing.
There was at least a numerical advantage for them to enjoy when Luke Romano was sent to the bin within minutes of coming on.
Maintaining that level of physicality for such a long period of time was no easy process, but the Crusaders were unrelenting.
Their reward came in the form of their third try, a show of footballing skill from Luke Whitelock who dribbled the ball and flopped on it in the corner. It was appropriate after Whitelock had stolen the Brumbies lineout beforehand to set up the attack.
Pat McCabe picked up a consolation score by cutting back through a gaping hole next to Nepo Laulala to add a bit more respectability to the scoreboard, but the contest was long over. This marked another milestone on the Crusaders' road to not just recovery, but also the playoffs.
Tries: McNicholl, Nadolo, L.Whitelock
Cons: Slade, Heinz
Pens: Slade 7
Yellow Card: Romano
Tries: Moore, McCabe
Pens: White 2
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ruaidhri Murphy, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Pat McCabe.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Ben O'Keefe (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)