Slade kicks 23, Crusaders tame Brumbies
RICHARD KNOWLER IN CHRISTCHURCH
Richie McCaw returns and the Crusaders smack the Brumbies 40-20.
All Blacks captain McCaw would baulk at the suggestion he was responsible for tonight's emphatic victory over the Aussie conference leaders and rightly so.
There was far more to this Crusaders performance than just the man in the No 6 jersey (who played at openside flanker for 78 minutes) but it certainly coincided with them putting together their most complete performance at AMI Stadium this season.
First five-eighth Colin Slade succeeded with seven of his nine shots at goal to bag 23 points, their defence - especially when they repeatedly locked out the Brumbies mid-way through the second half was tenacious - and the scrum was all-conquering.
And all without concussed skipper Kieran Read too.
McCaw, who has been sidelined for two months with a fractured thumb, has always had a remarkable ability to rebound from injuries like a spring lamb fresh off the greenest paddock and this performance was no different.
He used his uncanny ability to hold his ground when completing a turnover in the first half, turned over an opponent following a high kick a few seconds later, executed the odd carry and defended like a wild dog.
This wasn't all about McCaw, though.
Lock Sam Whitelock has exploded into top form over the last month; he might be his side's top lineout exponent but it's his work around the paddock that is proving the equal of his All Blacks team-mate Brodie Retallick up at the Chiefs.
It was also Whitelock's commitment that created Nemani Nadolo's runaway try in the second spell. The towering second rower took a ball to the face as he dived to make a charge down and when the pill squirted off his beak the grateful Nadolo took off.
Crusaders captain Ryan Crotty was the backline's everywhere man, especially in defence.
A yellow card to replacement lock Luke Romano in the 68th minute was one of the few blots on the copy book.
Some early casualties had the Crusaders rapidly playing swapsies on the substitution bench; Matt Todd retired with a leg injury in the second minute - allowing McCaw to go to openside flanker and centre Kieron Fonotia was replaced by Tom Taylor five minutes later.
Taylor lasted just 13 minutes before he suffered a head knock making a low tackle. So it was come on in Nafi Tuitavake; he went to the left wing and Nadolo shuffled in to centre.
Despite the rapid turnover of personnel the Crusaders dominated for the opening 25 minutes and Slade's accurate kicking - he succeeded with five penalty shots and a conversion in the first spell - reflected their territorial dominance.
Referee Glen Jackson must have dished out a round a dozen penalties in the opening 40. It was frustrating for the sell-out 17,300 crowd but there could be no disputing Jackson's consistency as he repeatedly punished needless breakdown cheating.
Perhaps Jackson could have also reached for a yellow card in the opening 40 minutes; the Brumbies survived by slowing ruck ball and when they surged back in the back-end of the half they were annoyed by the Crusaders giving them a dose of their own medicine in this area.
Crusaders left wing Johnny McNicholl grabbed the only try of the first spell, leaving it to the final moments.
It was a cracker, too. Instead of banging the ball back from inside their own half the Crusaders unexpectedly attacked, regurgitated the ball quickly towards the right-hand flank and when Whitelock flicked the final pass to McNicholl he thrust past the tackles of Jesse Mogg and Joe Tomane in his short trip to the line.
Crusaders 40 (Johnny McNicholl, Nemani Nadolo, Luke Whitelock tries; Colin Slade con, 7 pens, Willie Heinz con) Brumbies 20 (Stephen Moore try; Christian Lealiifano con, Matt Toomua con, Nic White 2 pens). HT: 22-6
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