The Otago Highlanders had to deal with a Ryan Crotty hat-trick within the first 20 minutes and a rock-solid defence from the rest of his Crusader team-mates as the men in blue and gold conceded seven tries in a 47-19 thumping at Rugby Park, Greymouth, this afternoon.
The Highlanders, in their second season under coach Jamie Joseph, took a hiding from the organised Crusaders in the opening half of the Super 15 warm-up match.
All the damage was done by the end of the second 20-minute quarter, the Crusaders taking a 35-0 lead into the corrugated iron Rugby Park changing sheds.
Second five-eighth Crotty, sporting an old Western-style cowboy moustache, had crossed the line three times by the 26 minute mark, kicker Tyler Bleyendaal happily knocking over the easy conversions.
Otago's first points didn't arrive until a solid five-minute period with the ball in hand just before the end of the third quarter - prop Bronson Murray squeezing through tired Crusaders tacklers to make it 40-5.
The Highlanders were helped by five successive penalties in the build up to the try, and the red and black-dominated crowd even cheered for the men from the south when they scored.
It was a game turning point for Otago.
Although too little, too late, substitutes Nasi Manu and Buxton Popoali'i both touched down within the final quarter as the Crusaders responded with only one of their own through flanker Joe Wheeler.
George Whitelock, Willi Heinz and Bleyendaal had scored earlier for the Crusaders.
Highlanders assistant coach Simon Culhane said his players needed the blow out, and one-on-one defence would be a priority for the team in the lead up to the start of the Super 15.
"We were sorry second in the first half - we didn't get a lot of ball and they got pretty easy gain line and capitalised from it. Our personnel changes in the second half helped ... The guys needed to have a game.''
Crotty, easily the match's stand out player, said he was pleased the West Coast rain had stayed away.
"It was tough to get the lungs going for the first game, but we're pretty happy.''
He said the days leading up to the match, during which the Crusaders squad split up and visited a number of the district's schools, had been a highlight for him.
"You know, we laid the wreath at the Pike memorial today ... that was a bit emotional but it's been good to get amongst it.''
Crusaders 47 (R Crotty 3, T Bleyendaal, W Heinz, G Whitelock, J Wheeler tries; Bleyendaal 5 cons, A Ellis con), Highlanders 19 (B Murray, N Manu, B Popoali'i tries; C Noakes 2 cons).
- THE GREYMOUTH STAR