Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders put on attacking masterclass

Zac Guilford of the Crusaders breaks away to score a try during the round 15 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.
Zac Guilford of the Crusaders breaks away to score a try during the round 15 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.

Crusaders 51
Highlanders 18

Well, that was some statement.

The Crusaders, under pressure to begin where they left off against the Blues before their bye, demolished the Highlanders 51-18 at Christchurch Stadium tonight.

Like the Crusaders, Jamie Joseph's men had play-off pretensions heading into this match played in front of a capacity 21,000 crowd. They were only two competition points and two places behind the red and blacks in seventh overall. After this defeat, their job just got a whole lot more difficult.

Todd Blackadder's men, on the other hand, will relish the challenge the rest of the season represents once it gets going again after the international break.

This was seen as a litmus test for their title credentials and they passed with it flying colours.

After something of an inconsistent season, the Crusaders showed they have the right stuff, especially at home where they are undefeated this season.

Zac Guildford, called into the All Blacks as an injury replacement, showed he might just walk into the All Blacks' first test team against Ireland with a busy, two-try performance.
In all the Crusaders scored seven tries, featuring some stunning attack which left the Highlanders often chasing shadows.

Plenty of players had points to prove with the Ireland tests looming. Chief among them were Andy Ellis, Ryan Crotty and Robbie Fruean and they all shone brighter than their Highlanders counterparts.

Dan Carter pulled the shots superbly. Kieran Read returned from injury like he had never been away and the Highlanders did well to stay in the game, the Crusaders having scored a four-try bonus point by half-time to lead 32-13 at the break.

Both teams lost players to the sinbin in the first half, but James Haskell's absence was felt far more keenly than George Whitelock's, the Crusaders scoring 15 points while the Highlander cooled his heals.

The Crusaders made their presence felt right from the first scrum. The set piece, dominant all night, put them on the front foot, Guildford took an inside pass from Carter and the red and blacks were away. A series of pick and goes later and George Whitelock burrowed over.

If it all seemed a bit easy, Carter continued the one-way traffic with a penalty from 49m, a breezy southerly wind at his back.

If the Crusaders needed a wake-up call it was provided by centre Tamati Ellison who shrugged off would-be tackles from Crotty and Ben Franks to dive over when there appeared to be little danger.

It allowed the Highlanders to take the lead and consolidated the advantage gifted to them via the 16th-minute sinbinning for a ruck offence of Whitelock.

Referee Steve Walsh soon evened things up by sinbinning Highlanders James Haskell which allowed Carter to kick the Crusaders level at 13-13 and the took the lead straight after the re-start through Guildford.

Two strong carries from Read and Fruean put Carter on the front foot and his grubber was well picked up by replacement hooker Quentin MacDonald and shovelled on to the left wing who took off like a startled rabbit on a 50m run to the line.

Carter turned to the tactic again only minutes later with same result _ a Guildford try, although it owed much to excellent build-up work from MacDonald and prop Wyatt Crockett.

The Crusaders quickly struck again, Fruean busting through and feeding Ellis who sent the excellent Crotty away on a 40m run under the posts.

Richie McCaw began things after the break, scampering after an Ellis kick to touch down following another long-range Crusaders breakout.

The tries kept coming. Crockett crashed over. Hosea Gear intercepted for the Highlanders to run in from 70m. Replacement flanker Matt Todd bagged one for the Crusaders.

The only downside for the Crusaders? The sight of hooker Corey Flynn walking off injured after only five minutes.

Crusaders 51 (Zac Guildford 2, George Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Richie McCaw, Wyatt Crockett, Matt Todd tries; Dan Carter 5 cons, 2 pens)
Highlanders 18 (Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear tries, Chris Noakes 2 pens, con)
HT: 32-13


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