Crusaders machine rolls over Hurricanes
Forget the fact the Hurricanes were at half strength, the Crusaders machine is officially cranking into gear.
There was a fizzer feel to a match that was always going to struggle to live up to its billing after the game day withdrawals of home wings Cory Jane and Julian Savea.
It mattered little to the Crusaders as they applied their ruthless efficiency in scoring five tries, to surge into the top echelons of the Super Rugby ladder.
While the Hurricanes were their own worst enemies with awful first-half tactics, the Crusaders were ruthless enough to exploit them, the match well and truly settled by halftime.
They did it without too much fuss, hard running captain Kieran Read setting the tone with his bruising running, wing Zac Guildford hungry for work and five eighths Tom Taylor and Dan Carter unhurried in guiding proceedings.
With All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in the stands, Israel Dagg grabbed two silky tries, with Read, Carter, and Robbie Fruean all adding to the score sheet.
It seemed a pity the Hurricanes were not able to give the 22,012-strong crowd what they'd wanted, but without halfback TJ Perenara (ankle), Jane (ankle) and Savea (illness), they seemed to lack real self belief.
The panache of earlier rounds was replaced by indecision, halfback Chris Eaton playing a flustered role at the base of the ruck.
No8 Victor Vito enhanced his reputation, while fullback Andre Taylor recovered from a shaky start to produce some bright moments.
But mostly there was a gulf in class and experience over the decisive opening half hour as the visitor's racked up a 32-0 lead before Taylor's late try gave some respite.
Much had been made in the buildup about how much kicking the Crusaders might do with Carter at second five eighth.
But it was the home side's boots that will be talked about for all the wrong reasons.
Tactically the first 40 minutes was a horror show for the Hurricanes.
Their counter-attacking ability had been badly blunted by absence of Jane and Savea and it was replaced by an aimless series of misdirected kicks.
It wasn't so much the Crusaders building pressure as the Hurricanes placing it upon themselves.
From the kickoff Chris Eaton put up a high kick from his 22. Cue 20-odd phases of Crusaders attack.
It was to be a theme.
The Crusaders first try was a nicely worked backs move from a scrum, Guildford slicing through on the inside of Tom Taylor and Read crashing over by the posts.
But the next two tries were gifts.
First Barrett put up another high ball from just outside his 22.
Guildford gobbled it up, Dagg probed blind and Andy Ellis fed Carter for a 17-0 lead.
Possibly still rattled from a huge hit from Read, Andre Taylor then repeated the foolishness with his own defensive bomb, Fruean leaping up, fending Chris Eaton, then sprinting 60 metres to the line.
Nothing was going the Hurricanes' way and referee Craig Joubert called back a marginal forward pass from Dane Coles to Richard Buckman, then let two more suspicious ones go as Dagg's try increased the margin to a frightening 32-0.
Andre Taylor salvaged something when he found two front rowers and exploited their lack of pace, but by then it was far too late to prevent what turned out to be something of a fizzer.
Beauden Barrett's ill-advised bomb is watched by most in the stadium, but Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean is the one to act, leaping up on halfway and snatching it from the sky. The former Wellingtonian then swats away halfback Chris Eaton and launches into a 40-metre run to the try line.
Kieran Read. The big No 8 ran with purpose all night, supported anything that moved and smashed anything in a yellow jersey. Back to his best before being subbed in the second half.
The Crusaders may have built slowly into this campaign, but their bonus-point victory sees them surge to 28 points on the ladder, just two behind the Highlanders and three behind the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference. One feels they might continue the trend.
The Hurricanes' fourth loss sees them fall away from the playoff group.
Crusaders 42 (Israel Dagg 2, Kieran Read, Dan Carter, Robbie Fruean tries, Tom Taylor 4 con, 3 pen) Hurricanes 14 (Andre Taylor, Victor Vito tries Beauden Barrett 2 cons) HT: 32-7
Sunday Star Times