Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders thump Reds to take pole position

Crusaders 38 Reds 5
Wing Jone Macilai (C) scored three of the Crusaders six tries en route to a convincing victory over the Reds. Photo / Getty
Wing Jone Macilai (C) scored three of the Crusaders six tries en route to a convincing victory over the Reds. Photo / Getty

If there were questions over how the Crusaders' attack would cope in the absence of the suspended Nemani Nadolo, they were answered by fellow Fijian wing Jone Macilai in his team's victory over the Reds at AMI Stadium tonight.

Macilai scored three tries - the first two within the opening seven minutes from two Crusaders scrums - and proved that, while the giant Nadolo is always going to leave a big hole, he has a pretty decent replacement in the jet-heeled Macilai.

One controversial moment in this match happened with seven minutes remaining when referee Brendon Pickerill denied Macilai a fourth try due to a double movement. In the end it was elementary because this was yet another dominant performance from the home side.

In answering the replacement question, Todd Blackadder's men posed one of their own with this six-tries-to-one bonus-point win; how will the table-topping Chiefs respond to the challenge to their position when they take on the Highlanders in Hamilton on Saturday night?

This result puts the Crusaders on top of the Chiefs at the top of the table by virtue of their better points differential compared with the men from Waikato.

They have been quietly going about their business in Christchurch and beyond, and, having now won eight in a row after their opening night defeat to the Chiefs on this ground, they show they will be a big threat in the playoffs. If they manage to have home advantage at the end of it all, they will be very hard to beat.

Their depth is superb - with five current or former All Blacks on the reserves bench in this match - but it is the way they are converting their opportunities, while nullifying the opposition's which is really catching the eye. After a brilliant start to this match, they couldn't get their hands on the ball for a decent stretch, yet the Reds simply couldn't find a way through despite dominating possession.

In the second half the Crusaders lost Kieran Read to the sinbin for collapsing a Reds' maul, a victim of several warnings from referee Pickerill, but rather than concede anything they struck back with an extraordinary try from loose forward Jordan Taufua, who sold an outrageous dummy to left wing Eto Nabuli.

The Crusaders' reserves Joe Moody, Ryan Crotty, Luke Romano, Owen Franks and Andy Ellis provided spark, with halfback Ellis in particular adding energy. Ellis made the break for what should have been Macilai's fourth try, but wasn't to be denied a hand in his team's sixth when adding his weight to a driving maul for hooker Codie Taylor's touchdown.

Blackadder took a slight risk in keeping so much of his talent on the bench, but all of his men took his opportunities, in particular lock Scott Barrett, who also got on the score sheet, and halfback Mitchell Drummond.

It was a difficult evening for the Reds, who haven't beaten the Crusaders since the grand final in Brisbane in 2011, with first-five Jake McIntyre seeing his conversion attempt charged down in front by that man Macilai. In the final moment of the match, the Reds were denied a second try when wing Chris Feauai-Sautia lost the ball over the line. "It was a great win for us, coming off the bye and getting the five points. It was what we came here to do," skipper Read said afterwards.

Crusaders 38 (Jone Macilai 3, Scott Barrett, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor tries; Richie Mo'unga 3 cons, Marty McKenzie con)
Reds 5 (Campbell Magnay try)
Halftime: 21-0

- NZ Herald

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