Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Crusaders embarrass Rebels

Crusaders 85 Rebels 26
Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders charges forward during the round 16 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Rebels at AMI Stadium. Photo / Getty
Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders charges forward during the round 16 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Rebels at AMI Stadium. Photo / Getty

The Crusaders will be feeling good about life again. There's nothing quite like handing out a proper thumping to warm the cockles.

And this was a proper, serious thumping. By halftime, everyone was searching the record books as it looked like the Crusaders could crack 100 points.

It was a great night for the Crusaders in terms of building their confidence, allowing them to run a few fringe members of their squad and to put the hurt of last week's loss in Fiji behind them.

There was plenty to admire about their offloading and support running. Their work at the turnover was outstanding, too, and their basic pass and catch was superb.

They were dangerous almost every time they had the ball. Nearly all the half chances they created, they scored - only really slowing up in the final quarter when they had the entire bench on and lost their way bit.

But as running rugby goes, this was up there. Once they were in space, they mostly stayed calm and made good decisions.

And then there was their scrum - or at least their scrum when Owen Franks was on for the first half hour. It was lethal, so much so that if Franks hadn't come off as a precaution with a stiff back, there would have been genuine safety fears.

But maybe not such a great night for rugby. Such one-sided contests don't grip the soul. It felt a little surreal seeing the Crusaders steal ball so often and so easily.

It didn't feel like they ever had to do much to earn the space. It didn't feel like a real game of Super Rugby watching Matt Todd run 60m to score from a kickoff.

There were periods - actually almost the whole game - where it was hard not to wonder whether the Crusaders would have had more of a game had they hauled a local club side in for the night.

The Rebels were a shambles. A total mess. They couldn't hold the ball, couldn't tackle, couldn't get the right numbers to the breakdown and couldn't scrummage. Maybe they were tired, or cold or jet-lagged - or maybe they are just a below average side who played badly on a night when a good side played well.

Whatever the truth, the game in Christchurch completed an alarming hat-trick for Australian rugby. The Brumbies and Reds were belted by New Zealand teams on Friday night and then another absolute trouncing for the Rebels.

With stories also emerging that the Force, being kept alive at the largesse of the Australian Rugby Union, were involved in some unsavoury off-field business in South Africa, the state of the game on the other side of the Tasman is a bit of a worry.

The gulf in class in the first three games was shocking, the differences in so many aspects were stark. The New Zealand teams were faster, fitter, more skilful, more aware and just far too good. All three had the feel of men versus boys, of professional athletes taking on amateurs.

It was yet more evidence to say expansion just hasn't worked for Super Rugby.

Crusaders 85 (S. Whitelock, R. Crotty (2), S. Barrett, A. Hodgman, N.Nadolo, J. McNicholl (3) C.Taylor (2), P.Samu, M. Todd, S Naifalu tries; R. Mo'unga 7 cons; N.Nadolo 3 cons)
Rebels 26 (N. Stirzaker, R.Hodge, C.Retallick tries; J. Debreczeni).
Halftime: 43-7.

- Herald on Sunday

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