The Crusaders kept up their impressive home record with a six-try thrashing of the Vodacom Bulls in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Christchurch on Saturday.
In a virtual carbon copy of their playoff game last year, the Crusaders dominated every facet of the match, threw the Bulls off their stride and should have won by a bigger margin was it not for several unforced errors on their side.
There’s no other way to say this – the Bulls were simply never in the game. The seven-time Super Rugby champions were desperate to finally get their season off to a good start after losing their opening two games and they turned up with a game plan to disrupt the Bulls and put them off their stride. As with the playoff game, the Bulls never really got going, struggled to get any ball and kicked away most that they did have in the first half, and found themselves chasing the game.
It was a far cry from the controlled performance a week before in Auckland, and the Crusaders' performance underlined why no South African team has won there since 1996. With six tries to one the story is very lopsided indeed, but could have been worse as the Crusaders butchered a number of chances that would have put them further ahead.
Yet, despite it all, the Bulls will want to move on from this game as soon as possible. Their inefficiencies were exposed and while they defended hard, they were always going to run out of numbers when their opposition had so much ball.
To beat the Crusaders on their home turf, you at least have to be able to control you own ball, but the home side dominated collisions, targeted the Bulls' lineout and breakdown and turned over so much ball that there never was a chance for the visitors to even think of an upset, never mind cause one.
The Bulls also didn’t help themselves when they reshuffled their backline when Akona Ndungane went off. With Francois Hougaard struggling with an ankle injury all week, the indication is that he wasn’t fit for the game and shouldn’t have been in the match 22 on the day.
Either way, the Crusaders showed their hand early on and had almost 75% of the ball in the first half, but their hands let them down at crucial times as they attacked the Bulls' line almost at will.
The stretched defence could only hold on so long, and in the 25th minute after 11 phases Israel Dagg slipped a perfect pass to Robbie Fruean close to the line for him to open the score.
Kieran Reid showed why he is so highly rated as he slipped over for the second try shortly afterwards. Morne Steyn’s boot kept the Bulls hopes' alive, but the Crusaders went further ahead on the stroke of halftime when Johnny McNichol went over in the corner.
At 22-9 at halftime the writing was already on the wall, but there was some hope when Steyn opened the second half with a penalty. The hope disappeared all too quickly though as Tom Marshall took turnover ball and ran through two tackles to score the bonus-point try.
In the Bulls' defence Marshall did look as if he was shielded by a teammate as he went around Juandre Kruger, and there were certainly questions on obstruction in the move, but referee Chris Pollock saw nothing wrong and allowed the try to stand.
The massacre continued when Wyatt Crockett put the game firmly beyond doubt for even the most optimistic Bulls supporter, and although the visitors finally got their lineout drive moving for Deon Stegmann to crash over, it was the 67th minute and it only made the scoreline look a bit more respectable.
Replacement halfback Willi Heinz got his name on the scoresheet shortly before the end, leaving the Bulls to head to Australia with much soul-searching to do.
They face the Reds in Brisbane next week, and will need to find their mojo quickly enough if they don’t want to lose all the momentum of their opening three wins in the competition.
Crusaders – Tries: Robbie Fruean, Kieran Read, Johnny McNicholl, Tom Marshall, Wyatt Crockett, Willi Heinz. Conversions: Dan Carter (4). Penalty: Carter.
Vodacom Bulls – Try: Deon Stegmann. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalties: Steyn (4).