The Crusaders took a massive step towards re-establishing themselves as Vodacom Super Rugby title prospects with a comprehensive 30-23 win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
In the process they also did the Bulls a favour in the race for a home semifinal, and ensured that the playoff spots will continue to be a hotly contested affair as the competition starts to angle towards its final weeks.
While the scoreline flatters the Brumbies, the Crusaders produced a well-controlled effort, exploiting the Brumbies’ weaknesses and playing to their own strengths to come back from 10-0 down to surge to victory, although they will be disappointed they missed out on a bonus point in the end.
And while the focus has been on other teams, it was also a clear indication that the seven-time champions are stepping up their effort and will be a dominant force in the final weeks of the competition.
However, the way the home side started would have rattled many teams, especially when Matt Tomua pounced to intercept Dan Carter’s pass and race 60 metres downfield to score against the run of play.
A penalty by Christian Lealiifano shortly afterwards made it 10-0 and it looked that, despite having less ball and territory, the home side were on their way to produce a decent win.
However, it didn’t take long for the Crusaders machine to click into gear, and after a Carter penalty put them on the board, they managed to get away with some obstruction at the scrum as Brumbies halfback Nick White was held back, allowing Andy Ellis to scoot over from a 5m scrum to get them back on level terms.
Despite some sparring, the second half produced a decent start for the Crusaders as Zac Guildford was put into space and pinned his ears back to score.
Having grasped the lead for the first time in the game, the Crusaders wouldn’t look back, and forced penalties for Carter to stretch the lead to 23-10.
Lealiifano grabbed a penalty back to bring the Brumbies within 10 and they looked as if they were to make a game of the final minutes, attacking the Crusaders' line with wave after wave.
But just as it looked as if they were going to break through, they lost the ball and some deft thinking by Israel Dagg started a counter attack on his own line, feeding the rest of the backline before Robbie Fruean gave the ball back to him to step inside Robbie Coleman for a beautiful 80-metre try.
It was the nail in the coffin of the Brumbies that ensured victory for the Crusaders, and despite the fact that Ben Mowen found his way back over the touchline to score, it was never going to be enough to stop the red and black Christchurch team.
A late Lealiifano penalty got the Brumbies an important losing bonus point – one that may be critical in the weeks to come – but it was scant consolation for being beaten by a Crusaders team that looked full of purpose and finding their straps away from home.
Brumbies – Tries: Matt Toomua, Ben Mowen. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano, Toomua. Penalties: Lealiifano (3).
Crusaders – Tries: Andrew Ellis, Zac Guildford, Israel Dagg. Conversions: Dan Carter (3). Penalties: Carter (3).