Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Crusaders winger Leicester Fainga’anuku is tackled by Jordan Petaia at Suncorp Stadium on Friday.
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane: Crusaders 25 (Leicester scored 21 minutes, Dom Gardiner scored 29 minutes, Willie Heinz scored 53 minutes; Richie Mo’unga scored 2 cons, 2 pens) Red 12 (Tate McDermott tries 31min, Jordan Petaia tries 60min; James O’Connor con) HT: 15-7
Another 80-minute shift from lock Scott Barrett helped the Crusaders to a hard-fought victory in Brisbane, but all the festivities were dampened by the sight of All Blacks George Bower prop being helped from the paddock in the last minute.
He was already battling a long list of injuries and losing Bower would be another blow, but the loosehead appeared to be in some pain after being trapped at the bottom of a collapsed maul.
He tried to continue playing, but struggled to support his own weight after suffering an ankle or knee injury.
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The Crusaders’ brain immediately seemed concerned in the coaching box when Bower was assisted to the sidelines, and it could overshadow a forgettable game.
The exhausted champions led 15–7 at half time and scored another try in the second half, but failed to secure a bonus point.
They also needed a typically staunch goal-line defense to keep the Reds at arm’s length, with Leicester Fainga’anuku making a chilling effort on Reds flanker Fraser McReight in the dying seconds.
The Crusaders were uncharacteristically sloppy in the opening exchanges, coughing up some soft offside penalties.
However, the Reds were not good enough to take one of their half chances and Richie Mo’unga opened the scoring with a penalty after the Crusaders won a scrum penalty.
The reigning champions then hit the Queenslanders with a two-try blowout, bringing their defense close to the ruck.
Mo’unga and halfback Noah Hotham were the catalysts, providing the inside passes for Leicester Fainga’anuku and Dom Gardiner to blast past a regular covering defence.
The Crusaders were largely in control at that stage, but their lineout was messy without the reassuring presence of Sam Whitelock, and they lost two on their own throw under pressure from Brad Thorn.
The Crusaders weren’t much smoother in the second half, and the big news of the night may turn out to be Bower’s injury.
The big moment
The Crusaders’ demolition work on the Reds’ scrum early in the second half was crucial. Great Tamaiti Williams won repeated penalties close to the line against opposing Dane Zander, and although the Reds’ scrum stabilised, the Crusaders progressed through the stages, eventually scoring through Willie Heinz to push the lead to 22-7.
Young forwards Gardiner and Christian Lio-Willie were full of zest and the gap between the two sides was evident in midfield, where Dallas McLeod and Braydon Ennor ran hard, showed some subtle touches and combined defensively to attempt a double rescue tackle. Jordan Petia. However, workaholic lock Scott Barrett made a big impact in his sixth game in a row. In the absence of several All Blacks forwards, the Crusaders needed Barrett to deliver, and he did – save for a strange and aimless kick in the second half.
6/10. The competition did not reach great heights. The Crusaders rarely got out of third gear, but the Reds simply lacked the accuracy to really put them under pressure.
The big picture
The Crusaders return to Christchurch for a match against Moana Pasifika, finally giving Barrett a week off. However, the lack of a bonus point could hurt them at the business end of the season.