Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: English rose finally blooms in Crusaders' garden city

Midweek team show power and accuracy to blow away weakened southern side

England winger Anthony Watson soars over the touchline. Photo / Brett Phibbs
England winger Anthony Watson soars over the touchline. Photo / Brett Phibbs

England finally have some rugby reward in New Zealand.

After two narrow test defeats, on a night when they also shed injured five-eighths Owen Farrell from the tour, the midweek men pumped the Crusaders in Christchurch.

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They had spent three weeks training for this chance to show off their skills and began without any signs of nerves or rust as they blazed away with two tries inside the opening eight minutes.

Their power and blazing accuracy looked ominous as they marched downfield from set-piece, rolling mauls and strike runners.

Comeback five-eighths Danny Cipriani started the scoring onslaught when he danced through a gap and unloaded to his hooker before Ben Foden's balancing act down the touchline produced another touchdown.

Before the end of the first quarter, the Crusaders lost experienced captain George Whitelock to concussion but their response was impressive.

Pressure on the England lineout caused them to mess up the process and from the turnover, replacement flanker Matt Todd blasted over from close range.

When they held possession the Crusaders were making progress, however England were very dominant at the breakdowns.

Their superior strength and technique allowed them to dispossess the Crusaders regularly and was very beneficial when they wanted to turn the forward power against the hosts. By halftime they had claimed double the Crusaders' turnovers.

It was a punishing lesson about ball security.

England were breathing hard when they had to defend the wide channels but their forward flurries took the legs away from the Crusaders. It was impressive stuff and laid the groundwork for four tries by halftime with Cipriani converting all but one.

England's patterns were similar to their test squad as they delivered route one progress until they sensed the defenders had jammed into the middle of the ground. They were able to make regular progress across the advantage line as the Crusaders fell off too many tackles.

The Crusaders' plan was to tackle lower and attack more after the break and Luke Whitelock went close after a succession of raids before impressive defender Barritt and Foden claimed him near the corner.

That promise was short-lived. England regrouped and took the chance to rest some of their players including Cipriani who may be needed in the last test in Hamilton on Saturday.

It was almost into the last quarter before England added to their halftime tally but it was a cracker. A neat offload sent wing Anthony Watson on a goose-stepping run past two defenders to the line as the action went to another level.

England 38 (Joe Gray, Ben Foden, Brad Barritt, Alex Goode, Anthony Watson, Chris Pennell tries; Danny Cipriani 3 con, Stephen Myler con)

Crusaders 7 (Matt Todd, tries; Tom Taylor con) HT: 26-7

- NZ Herald

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