Crusaders too good for Canes in Levin
Wing Johnny McNicholl bagged a hattrick of tries, but it was some old-heads closer to the action that made the difference for the Crusaders during their 40-15 win over the Hurricanes in Levin.
The Hurricanes had dominated the first half of the two side's final Super Rugby preseason match, but fell away after coach Mark Hammett emptied his bench after the break.
The entry of All Black captain Richie McCaw, lock Sam Whitelock and experienced halfback Andy Ellis after the break had the opposite effect on the visitors, while No 8 Jordan Taufua also made a strong impact with two tries.
The Hurricanes won't be too down-cast after dominating possession during the first half and looking impressive in scoring three tries to Beauden Barrett, Marty Banks and Ben Franks before coach Mark Hammett rung the changes.
Hammett will be less pleased with the way his lineout misfired in the second 40 minutes and how some soft tries allowed the margin to blow out in front of about 5000 fans.
McCaw was full of running, stealing a lineout with his first touch and carrying the ball strongly, while Whitelock was as always a nuisance to the opposition and Ellis crisp around the rucks.
For the Hurricanes Beauden Barrett was physical and precise at first five-eighth and Hadleigh Parkes solid outside him.
Lock Mark Abbott had an impressive first half, Marty Banks produced some nice touches at fullback, while loose forwards Jack Lam and Faifili Levave put in some solid tackles.
The Hurricanes dominated the first half playing into a stiff breeze and led 15-14 at the break.
Barrett opened the scoring when he intercepted a pass to run 70 metres to the try line.
Hurricanes wing Alapati Leiua returned the favour when he threw a careless pass from just outside his 22m for McNicholl to jog in for the Crusaders first try.
Tom Taylor's conversion gave the visitor's a 7-5 lead after 22 minutes, but it proved short lived.
Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett was sin-binned, somewhat harshly, for a tip tackle on Leiua after 25 minutes and Banks scored shortly after when he shot onto a Barrett pass to make it 10-7.
Colin Slade subbed off on the half hour mark and Tyler Bleyendaal timed his entry to perfection when he went blind from a midfield scrum from which McNicholl got his brace.
The Hurricanes defence played its part with Parkes a tad slow across to cover Crotty and Leiua coming off his line to allow McNicholl a relatively easy finish. Taylor nailed the sideline conversion for a 14-10 lead.
The highlight of the first half for Hammett came near halftime when he watched his scrum shunt the Crusaders off their own feed.
Wing Cory Jane regathered Barrett's chip kick and after a Parkes surge the ball shot through several pair of hands for Ben Franks to score in the corner.
After the break, Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor's had a regrettable moment when he tried to run from his own 22, his wayward pass gifting McNicholl his hattrick with 25 minutes to play.
The lead grew to 26-15 when Taufua stepped off his right foot and inside Ardie Savea from the back of a five metre scrum to dot down under the posts.
Dagg spilled a simple pass out wide, but Taufua got his double after a sustained period then Willi Heinz completed the scoring near full time after an electric break from Rob Thompson.
Neither side appeared to suffer any serious injuries, though Slade was limping noticeably after the match.
Crusaders 40 (Johnny McNicholl 3, Jordan Taufua 2, Willie Heinz tries, Tom Taylor 2 cons, Tyler Bleyendaal 3 cons) Hurricanes 15 (Beauden Barrett, Marty Banks, Ben Franks tries). HT: 14-15.
The Dominion Post