Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders blow Force away to go top of the Super Rugby table

Crusaders 45 Force 17

The good news for the Crusaders is they have won their first bonus point of the season in beating a Force team under threat of being cut from this competition.

In doing so they made the evening of their new coach Scott Robertson slightly easier than it has been during their previous three victories, all fightbacks from virtually unwinnable positions. They also went to the top of the table, overtaking the Chiefs who have a bye this weekend. It wasn't a bad night's work.

The not so good news is that this was messy at times and especially in the second half when the Crusaders' discipline came under severe scrutiny and they were perhaps lucky to lose only one player to a yellow card.

The Force, sponsored by Road Safety, threatened to be little more than judderbars in the first half at AMI Stadium as the Crusaders ran in three quick converted tries, but their resolve refused to dwindle.

They pinched one back with an intercept to wing Alex Newsome and hit back again with a converted try on halftime, and, after their coach David Wessels asked them to throw a few metaphorical punches in the second half, they did so.

The match descended into a slog as the drizzle set in after the break, a Codie Taylor try from a lineout drive for the home side followed by a series of messy scrums over a tedious six-minute period on the Crusaders line leading to referee Rohan Hoffman sending Crusaders prop Tim Perry to the sinbin.

It was a shame because the match had started in such a positive fashion, the Crusaders looking as sharp as they ever have this season as they set about fixing a recent trend of relying on fightbacks to win games.

They didn't kick the ball in the first quarter such was their willingness to test the visitors' defence and they were repaid with tries to two players returning from injury - Digby Ioane and Matt Todd - plus Scott Barrett, a lock who shone at blindside flanker. Lock Luke Romano stole on himself when taking advantage of the Force's sloppiness over their try-line.

To be fair to Robertson's side, they did extremely well to weather the Force storm during that period of what seemed like hours of re-set scrums on the home side's line. And in extracting themselves, they went up the other end, won a penalty and then scored another through fullback David Havili.

They just weren't as fluent as perhaps they threatened to be earlier and that was a credit to the Force too, who must be fearing for their future if Sanzaar get around to making a decision on the competition's new structure.

Having won eight of their last nine matches at home, the Crusaders were looking to blow the Force away, and in in-form locks Romano and Sam Whitelock, loose forwards Barrett and Jordan Taufua and centre Ryan Crotty they had the right men to do so.

And, although the margin of victory and number of tries - seven - looks healthy, it didn't quite happen. But as the Crusaders continue to develop under Robertson, that might not be a bad thing either.

Crusaders 45 (Digby Ioane, Matt Todd, Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Codie Taylor, David Havili, Ben Funnell tries; Mitch Hunt 5 cons)
Force 17 (Alex Newsome, Chance Peni tries; Jono Lance pen, 2 cons)
Halftime: 28-17

- NZ Herald

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