Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Canes caned by Crusaders

Corey Flynn of the Crusaders is tackled by Richard Buckman of the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images
Corey Flynn of the Crusaders is tackled by Richard Buckman of the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images

Hurricanes 14
Crusaders 42

The Crusaders have flicked the magic switch - the one that transforms them into a frothing red wall of rugby energy and leaves lesser sides like the Hurricanes as unwitting road kill.

Tactically they were streets ahead, playing an intriguing mix of kick-and-chase and counter-attack to scythe, confuse and bludgeon the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes, for their part, were complicit in their own horrific first half demise - choosing endlessly to boot the ball aimlessly into the middle of the field and hope that somehow the Crusaders wouldn't capitalise. Of course it proved to be as flimsy as it sounds, compounded by the inaccuracy of the kicking.

There was no contest in the air, no punishing line of Hurricanes defenders and the Crusaders had the freedom of the Cake Tin in those opening 40 minutes.

That's where the damage was done, the Crusaders stretching out to 32-0 after 35 minutes. There's being a generous host and then there's just being plain stupid - handing the Crusaders a lead like that was suicide and as well as the Hurricanes recovered, they were never going to haul their way back into genuine contention.

It was the softness, the casual disregard for the game plan or common sense that was most perplexing - all season the Hurricanes have been deadly when they have moved the ball and backed their instincts and yet there they were experimenting with kick and no chase from their own territory.

By the time the Hurricanes aimed the loaded gun away from their foot and regained their width, tempo and composure, it was all too late.

The Crusaders knew the game was safe and knew they would weather the resilience; that the Hurricane was never going to be deadly.

Besides, everyone could see that Kieran Read simply wasn't going to be stopped. He was in that sort of mood and if he ever had a World Cup hangover, he has certainly shaken it off.

He was at his rampaging best, scoring the opening try when he coasted up the middle to take Zac Guildford's inside pass.

The skipper had plenty more to come, working his full portfolio. As welcome as it was to see his aerobic game at full noise, those ranging legs of his cranked to the max, the best reminder of Read's worth came close to half-time when he buckled Andre Taylor.

The Hurricanes fullback made the mistake of being indecisive after retrieving a kick. It's not one he's likely to make again as he was clobbered by Read, then driven back and then mangled with the ball spitting out on the Crusaders' side.

Rugby is a gain line business and Read owned it, making life relatively easy for those outside him.

Tom Taylor was able again to take a firm hand on proceedings, playing with all the nonchalance of the man outside him. The question will continue to be asked: when will Dan Carter be restored to the No 10 jersey? The answer, as long as Taylor continues to play with such awareness and unhurried accuracy, will remain a mystery.

There would seem little need for the Crusaders to change a winning combination as much as it might secretly displease Carter to have been bumped to a role he felt he'd left behind. The Crusaders were able to play with the width they wanted and most importantly, they were able to finally bring their back three in to full effect.

Israel Dagg had a heart-to-heart with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen during the week to open his soul about his lack of confidence and form.

Whatever was said, it worked. Dagg was more decisive and his two tries were a case of him having the confidence to be in the right place at the right time.

The fullback was helped no end by the much improved Guildford, who relished having to take high balls in the first half and then launch counter-attacks. That's his natural game, making it all the more curious that the Hurricanes spent those crazy first 40 minutes doing all they could to build the confidence of the Crusaders' back three.

By the final whistle, the wash-up was pretty much as predicted. It was never going to be easy for the Hurricanes having lost Cory Jane, Julian Savea and most painfully, TJ Perenara. They are not the sort of team that can handle losing any of their preferred players.

Hurricanes 14 (A. Taylor, V. Vito tries; B. Barrett 2 cons), Crusaders 42 (K. Read, D. Carter, R. Fruean, I. Dagg 2 tries; T. Taylor 4 cons, 3 pens). Halftime 7-32.

- Herald on Sunday

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