The Crusaders have started its 2014 season on a winning note, despite missing its superstar trio.
Dan Carter is on sabbatical, Richie McCaw watched from the sideline and Kieran Reid is still a few weeks away from playing, but the red and black men still got the job done against the Highlanders in a pre-season Super 15 match at a soggy Sportspark Motueka tonight.
The Crusaders ran in four tries - two from turnovers on their own 22 - to secure a 28-15 win over a Highlanders team that suffered from too many turnovers. Played over four 20 minute quarters, both sides made plenty of substitutions.
It was the Crusaders who looked more settled in their game, although the Highlanders claimed a slight edge at scrum time.
The match may have only been a pre-season hit-out but the defence was ferocious and it was still a typical southern derby.
Rain fell for much of the day and only managed to hold off for the first half. As the rain fell in the second so did the standard of ball handling, the final quarter missing much of the intensity of the first two.
Crusaders captain Ryan Crotty said after the match that his team felt fitter than in other years.
"We're ahead of where we have been in past seasons. We're really focused on the rugby side of things and the boys are really fit. Energy is good around the camp so things are going well.''
The game also marked the return of former All Black Colin Slade to the Crusaders set-up after playing the last two seasons for the Highlanders. Coming on the second half, Slade set up the Crusaders final try with a grubber kick for Kieran Fonotia to slide on under the posts. His spell at first five-eighth didn't last long though, with a head knock to fullback Israel Dagg forcing him from the field and Slade back to fullback.
For the Highlanders, coach Jamie Joseph said getting their hands on the ball was a problem early in the game. ``Every time we looked like scoring, they scored. But the second half was a different half, I thought we did bloody well in the end. Physically we met them and I'm quite happy with our scrum and our defence was a lot more abrasive than the first half.
"But if we're like that in the Super rugby season, it's going to be tough.''
The Highlanders final pre-season match is against the Waratahs in Newcastle and the Crusaders play the Hurricanes in Levin next.