With a 37-26 win over the Brumbies, the Crusaders have answered some questions.
The club who lost two of their past four matches leading into the tussle in Canberra appear to have turned a corner on their road to the playoffs, flaunting their attacking prowess, getting the better of the collision and defending with intent.
A vastly improved team to the one that lost to the Waratahs a fortnight ago, the Crusaders still had some errors and lackadaisical play that could be expunged, but seemed comfortable against the Brumbies for the most part.
It will be a concern to coach Scott Robertson that it took an early ambush from the Brumbies which saw his side go behind before they switched on, and more so that they allowed the Brumbies back into the contest at the death and put themselves under unnecessary pressure; though their desperation defence provides something of a silver lining.
The Brumbies came into the game sitting second on the competition ladder and, from their display it would be hard to argue they were in fact one of the competition's top two teams. Having only lost once this season before Friday night's game, there was always going to be a lot of interest in how the Brumbies reacted when matched up against one of the top two Kiwi teams.
They attacked the Crusaders from the opening kickoff, putting heavy pressure on the reception of the Crusaders and forcing an error which led to a messy clearance from the visitors. It was an indication of how the Brumbies wanted to play and after four minutes midfielder Irae Simone had opened the scoring – albeit unconvincingly.
It appeared he had lost control in trying to plant the ball over the line, but while that was the case, there was never any separation between arm and ball, and there was enough on the replays to suggest downward pressure and the try stood.
But the Crusaders went right back at their rivals, and the Brumbies staggered. As the Crusaders began to find momentum, first with a try to Codie Taylor then one to Sevu Reece set up by a deft Taylor grubber kick in behind the line, the Brumbies struggled and essentially played themselves out of the game with ill-discipline and errors.
The Crusaders held a comfortable 23-5 lead at halftime, and while the Brumbies cut into that early in the second half – again through Simone – the sides traded blows, with Bryn Hall crossing for the Crusaders before Folau Fainga'a for the Brumbies.
A try to Will Jordan with 15 minutes to play saw the Crusaders extend their lead, before unintentionally igniting a late Brumbies charge by throwing a long looping pass that was picked off by opposition fullback Tom Wright, who went the length of the pitch to score.
But while they battered the Crusaders line late, they were unable to penetrate it as the Crusaders showed plenty of effort to get bodies behind the ball and keep the Brumbies out.
It bodes well for the Crusaders with two matches remaining in pool play – against the Fijian Drua in Christchurch next weekend before hosting the Reds in their final match.
For the Brumbies, they have a chance to prove they are who the table shows they are when they host the Blues next weekend, before ending their regular season away to Moana Pasifika.
Crusaders 37 (Codie Taylor, Sevu Reece, Bryn Hall, Will Jordan tries; Richie Mo'unga 4 cons, 3 pens)
Brumbies 26 (Irae Simone 2, Folau Fainga'a, Tom Wright tries; Ryan Lonergan 2 cons, Nic White con)