Like two weeks ago against the Blues at Eden Park, the Canterbury side found a way to hold on and take their limited chances, despite falling far short of their best, for last night’s 25-12 win at Melbourne’s Suncorp Stadium .
Considering the Crusaders have now won their last 12 games against the Reds, this result was completely predictable.
However, the Reds were far more competitive than many expected with Wallabies utility Jordan Petaia heavily involved from the left wing, No. 8 Harry Wilson led the attack with the ball in hand and halfback Tate McDermott impressed with the one try and laid on the Others.
The Crusaders, missing 16 players through injury, including Ethan Blackadder, Sam Whitelock and Sevu Reece, took their third win in a row since losing the shock against Fijian Drua to improve their season record to 4-2.
While coach Scott Robertson will be happy to come out unscathed, this was a patchy performance by the Crusaders, with three lost lineouts, their defensive line regularly broken and discipline infuriating.
The Reds recording seven clean busts compared to the Crusaders’ two underline the competitive nature of the three-try-to-two game.
At this point, the Crusaders will welcome Moana Pasifika next week.
The Crusaders led 15-7 at half time and extended that to 22-7 midway through the second half, but they were beaten in the slump and the Reds kept coming.
Tamaiti Williams was among the best of the Crusaders after leading a dominant scrum alongside veterans Codie Taylor and Joe Moody. His damaging attempts from tighthead netted two penalties in the second half. Williams then backed that up with a wave that left him inches short, allowing Willi Heinz to finish the job with a strike that ultimately sealed the result.
However, the Reds had plenty of opportunities to seriously threaten the Crusaders.
Trailing by 13 points with 12 minutes remaining, the Reds’ curious decision to kick for the posts looked made worse when James O’Connor missed the try and the attacking opportunity was wasted from the lineout. Moments later, Red’s second five-eighth Isaac Henry blew another break by not passing to his support. That was the story of their night.
The Crusaders were forced to absorb early pressure as Petaia and Wilson had the Reds on the forefoot with a strong ball carrier, while McDermott, as always from the base, proved to be a constant threat.
Richie Mo’unga initially got the Crusaders thinking with the first of two hits in 10 minutes from a deft inside ball that came in from wing Leicester Fainga’anuku, beating the last man to claim the opening try.
Rookie halfback Noah Hotham, the 19-year-old in his debut debut, underlined his talent with a deadly snipe that featured speed, vision and offload to set up Dom Gardiner, who was prominent elsewhere with ball in hand.
Hotham also impressed, choosing his passes and controlling the pace in a largely composed 43-minute stint.
Leading 15-0 after half an hour, the Crusaders were cruising at the time. But it didn’t last long.
The Reds applied pressure at the lineout to stay in contention. The locals answered just before half-time after a breakaway featuring full-back Jock Campbell, O’Connor and Wilson, suitably finished off by McDermott.
Petaia’s second-half finish in the corner, after being denied early, had the Reds within reach, only for their execution to prove costly.
While competitive in this game, the Reds slide to 2-4 and with the Brumbies in danger of missing the playoffs next week.
Crusaders 25 (Leicester City, Dom Gardiner, Willi Heinz try; Richie Mo’unga 2 setbacks, 2 penalties)
Red 12 (Tate McDermott, Jordan Petaia tries; Isaac Henry con)