Clinical Crusaders prevail in shocking conditions
BRUTAL. Effective. Inevitable. Play in these conditions every week and the Crusaders would be unbeatable.
If Christchurch needed any sort of reminder that a roofed stadium is a must for future plans, this was it. Then again, despite the scoreless second half, when their team plays this well locals probably won't complain.
For the neutral, it was hard to escape the feeling this match could have delivered so much more. But there was also no mistaking the fact the Crusaders thoroughly deserved their 17-0 victory over the Highlanders in their Super Rugby elimination quarter-final.
With a state of emergency declared in parts of the city, and some 15mm of surface water resting in sections of the ground, conditions were always going to play a major role and favour the home side's All Blacks-laden pack. To their credit they dictated proceedings perfectly, grinding the Highlanders into the mud with relentless efficiency.
While dire weather kept many locals away, making for a poor quarter-final turnout, the Crusaders thrived in this old-school slugfest. This was a night for traditionalists, not those who tune in for running rugby. Some backs were even reduced to warming their hands.
The Crusaders were supremely dominant in all aspects, banishing successive losses to the Hurricanes and British and Irish Lions leading into the playoffs and emphasising why they went 14-1 during the regular season.
On countless occasions Scott Robertson's men methodically constructed 15-20 phases, with Bryn Hall in the boot directing his troops. Ball retention was superb. Pressure turned into points. It was one-way traffic from the outset.
The Highlanders arrived with a plan to back their kicking game - even attempting grubber restarts. But they didn't execute it well, too often kicking in attacking positions.
Anytime they looked like threatening, anytime they made ground, they kicked the ball away. It forced them to play the vast majority of the match without the ball. The Crusaders were all too happy to bang it back with interest. It wasn't just the Crusaders' kicking game that was superior but their chase line, too.
Liam Squire didn't help the visitors with an early yellow card for a high shot on Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo'unga. From then on, really, the Highlanders were either defending or backpedalling. Their scrum and lineout struggled - Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock prominent here - to the point hooker Liam Coltman was pulled for Ash Dixon after 34 minutes.