Crusaders 17 Brumbies 13

They featured a few new faces and were playing under a rookie coach but it was the same old Crusaders who tonight earned a season-opening win over the Brumbies.

All the characteristics present in the previous campaign - both positive and negative - were again on display at AMI Stadium, suggesting the Crusaders will once more be challengers but perhaps lack a little of the panache inherent in the other New Zealand teams.

In the first match of Scott Robertson's reign, the Crusaders enjoyed plenty of effective spells in possession, deployed their dominant scrum when they needed it most and showed a level of composure indicative of a team packed with All Blacks.

But they also struggled to put away a Brumbies side who hadn't won in Christchurch since 2000, setting up a nervy conclusion when, if they had turned their pressure into points, they could have been much more comfortable.

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There were certainly mitigating factors to explain why the Crusaders left to face a fraught finale. With Kieran Read running the water, they integrated some Super Rugby debutants and a couple of new faces from other franchises for a clash between two teams who last year made the quarter-finals.

But the complaint that has in recent seasons regularly been levelled at the Crusaders could again be laid: for all their patience, their attack was missing the clinical edge needed to dispatch an obdurate opponent.

And, where last year they possessed a decent back-up plan in the form of Nemani Nadolo, the Fijian's departure to France will leave opposition defences confident of repelling the Crusaders' threats.

In the first half at least tonight, Israel Dagg caused a level of trouble akin to what Nadolo so often represented, albeit using elusive running and canny passing instead of brute strength.

Dagg picked up exactly where he left off after last year's standout campaign, laying on both the Crusaders' tries in the first half. His cut out pass to Seta Tamanivalu saw the Crusaders open the scoring following a 14-phase move in the first three minutes, and his offload for Whetu Douglas' try was even better.

But while those tries represented good reward for an impressive level of continuity, they were the exception rather than the rule. Blessed with a wealth of possession as the Brumbies continued to kick aimlessly and hand the home side handy positions from which to launch their attacks, those forays too often came to blunt conclusions.

It wasn't for a lack of trying - the Crusaders had 17 offloads in the first half to the Brumbies' one - and the visitors certainly did their part with some dogged defence. But until Peter Samu scored from a pushover scrum, the Crusaders looked like they could be punished for their profligacy - and on other nights they will be.

Crusaders 17 (S. Tamanivalu, W. Douglas, P. Samu tries; R. Mo'unga con)
Brumbies 13 (R. Arnold try; W. Hawera 2 pens, con)
Halftime: 12-3