It was a field day for the Whitelock family as the Crusaders introduced the Southern Kings to the harsh realities of life on the road with an emphatic 55-20 Vodacom Super Rugby win at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
Flanker George Whitelock scored three tries and replacement Luke Whitelock scored his first in Crusaders colours in the second half as the hosts continued the momentum they picked up when they buried the Bulls 41-19 at the same venue last week.
For the winners, who banked their four-try bonus point within the first half hour, it was a good warm-up for their tour of South Africa, which starts in Cape Town next Saturday against the Stormers before they face the Sharks in Durban the following week.
For the Kings, the result will be disappointing in the sense that they did slip more tackles in this match than they had previously, but then maybe that was inevitable if you consider the physical and mental toll that the last two home matches before their tour would have taken on the players, not to mention the long flight to New Zealand this week.
For most of the Kings players, this is their first Super Rugby tour.
If you take that into consideration, the result was not a disaster, and certainly not as bad as threatened early in the game, when the Crusaders started looking super-sharp and determined to make their point early.
The match was only three minutes old when the Crusaders embarked on a side-to-side attack that eventually saw flanker George Whitelock go over in the left corner.
The Kings looked to be struggling to come to terms with the width of the Crusaders’ attacking play, and they struggled with their line speed on defence in those early stages, which allowed the home team to get momentum.
A Demetri Catrakilis penalty cancelled out one from Dan Carter and it was 10-3 after 12 minutes, but then came another long sustained build-up in which the Crusaders controlled possession superbly before prop Wyatt Crockett eventually went over near the posts.
The try was a debatable one as it did look like there may have been obstruction in the build-up, and the last Crusaders try, dotted down by George Whitelock to complete his hat-trick in the closing minutes of the game, was also questionable as it looked suspiciously like the flanker had been held up on the line before making a second movement.
PROMISE ON ATTACK
The Kings did show momentary glimmers of promise on attack, and a Catrakilis break after 19 minutes created an opportunity to score a try that was wasted but did force a penalty which the flyhalf kicked to make it 17-6.
Having said that, for a team that gets so little possession, they are going to have to work harder on the skill levels that will enable them to hold onto the ball for longer when they do have it, as there were too many elementary errors.
Some of them featured Catrakilis, who dropped a regulation pass in the first half and was also guilty of executing some poor passes that the centres struggled to pick up.
They did score a good try though on the stroke of halftime as they drove over from an attacking lineout that had been set up by a penalty, with Wimpie van der Walt completing the touchdown.
That was good reward for the Kings as they had spent the last 10 minutes of the first half in Crusaders territory and looked to be finding their feet and their composure.
But the catch was that the Crusaders had by then scored tries No 3 and No 4, the first to George Whitelock as the Crusaders mauled their way over the line from a lineout, and then scrumhalf Willi Heinz on the half-hour mark scored a try that would have been avoided by the Kings had their tackling remained as pinpoint as it had been at home in the first weekends of competition.
The Kings were, however, under constant pressure in the set-pieces, particularly the scrums, and any mistakes they made need to be considered in the light of that pressure.
The Kings' try, converted by Catrakilis, saw the teams take the break at 31-13 to the Crusaders, and it became 48-13 by the 57th minute as first Matt Todd powered over off another lineout drive to add to a 43rd minute penalty from Carter, and then Luke Whitelock capitalised on a poor Kings lineout throw and some woeful defence near the line for his five pointer.
They are going to need more than character if they want to pick up log points, but the Kings, even though they were guilty of defensive lapses, did stick to their vow to not stop fighting, and most of the defence in the second half was good.
Some of their attacking was also encouraging, and the try by George Whitehead, completing a movement starting well inside the Kings' half, was probably the try of the match.
They can look back on that score as a confidence booster ahead of their next challenge, which will be provided by the Hurricanes in Wellington.
Crusaders – Tries: George Whitelock (3), Wyatt Crockett, Willi Heinz, Matt Todd, Luke Whitelock. Conversions: Dan Carter (5), Tyler Bleyendaal. Penalties: Carter (2).
Southern Kings – Tries: Wimpie van der Walt, George Whitehead. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis, George Whitehead. Penalties: Catrakillis (2).