Crusaders 50 Sunwolves 3

The Sunwolves were always going to struggle in their first outing in New Zealand.

But they made a rod for their own backs by continuously kicking the ball away to the eager Crusaders' counter-attack. Granted, the AMI Stadium turf was slippery after all the rain, but there had to be more thought behind the tactic, especially as the likes of David Havili and Seta Tamanivalu proved adept under the high ball. It cannot have been part of coach Filo Tiatia's master plan, and certainly not when lagging in the field position and possession stats.

Crusaders loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett celebrated his competition record 176th game in style, just doing his core roles effectively and accurately. He had his opposite Takura Asahara in trouble in the scrums. There is every show that Crockett will be the first to raise 200 Super games, as he has another year to run (2018) with the Crusaders. His good mate Andy Ellis was on hand, keen to share a post-match beer. Crockett was subbed after 48 minutes, job done, and was duly named man of the match.

Tamanivalu looked good on the right wing until he was binned for a dangerous tackle on an airborne Sunwolves fullback Kotaro Matsushima. Tamanivalu never returned to the fray but his nephew Manasa Mataele stole the show with a first half hat-trick, in the space of 10 minutes, popping up regularly on either side of the field. Some of the Crusaders' short passing was sweetly executed, though none better than Pete Samu's offload from the grass for Mataele's first try.


And yet the Sunwolves started as though they meant to tackle with vigour for the full 80 minutes. Noble such a goal was, it was never going to work as they were under severe pressure at both scrum, which was pulverised, and lineout. The visitors could therefore launch nothing on offence, and too often reverted to a good ol' Garryowen, mostly defused with ease by the Crusaders.

The home side took some time to warm to their task, 13 minutes to be precise, before No 8 Kieran Read, in his comeback for this team, slid over for the opening score. To that point, there were unforced errors and a certain amount of anxiety, as though they felt they had to put 50 on by halftime. But there was always the feeling that they would slowly, inexorably exert dominance and show the Sunwolves what life at the other end of the table is like. It wasn't flawless, but then it didn't need to be. That win over the Bulls last weekend must seem like an eternity ago for the Japanese franchise.

Read himself came through unscathed in 48 minutes of work after a half for his University club last weekend, and he looks fresh and fit, which is a bad sign for the Lions in June and any looming Crusaders opponents.

Richie Mo'unga also made a pleasing comeback, showing some silky touches at first five. He only kicked three from six off the tee before ceding the duties to Marty McKenzie but, in fairness, two hit the posts.

Lock Luke Romano, marginalised as a starter by the emergence of Scott Barrett, powered through his work in the Crusaders pack, while Mitch Drummond was busy at halfback.

The Crusaders now sit atop the Super Rugby standings with their 7-0 record, though they may be overtaken by the Stormers when they host the Lions.

Next Saturday, the Crusaders welcome the Stormers to Christchurch, while the Sunwolves head further south to face the Highlanders in Invercargill.

Crusaders 50 (Manasa Mataele 3, Kieran Read, Ben Funnell, Pete Samu, George Bridge, Whetu Douglas tries; Richie Mo'unga 3 con, Marty McKenzie 2 con)
Sunwolves 3 (Yu Tamura pen)
HT: 29-3