The Crusaders launched their Super Rugby title defence with a 43-25 victory over the Waratahs in an entertaining nine-try festival in Nelson Saturday.
It was the pupil outsmarting the master as the Crusaders scored six tries to three to confirm their status as championship frontrunners again, while in Fukuoka the Sunwolves began their farewell season with 36-27 upset of the Melbourne Rebels.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, bidding to take his side to a fourth consecutive title was mentored early in his coaching career by now Waratahs coach Rob Penney and obviously learned well as the defending champions raced to a 24-6 lead at half-time.
They received a jolt midway through the second half when 19-year-old Waratahs’ flyer Mark Nawaqanitawase scored twice in three minutes to narrow the gap to 24-18 before the Crusaders finished off with three further tries.
According to captain Scott Barrett it largely went according to plan.
“We wanted to start well, we wanted to set the pace in this competition and we showed plenty of attacking endeavour. But in the first game of the season there were plenty of errors,” he said.
Waratahs leader Rob Simmons was disappointed his side could not capitalise on opportunities they created.
“They showed us that if you give them a sniff they’re going to come and keep coming.”
The Crusaders showed their wide-ranging counter-attacking repertoire, mixing wide passes with close-range off-loads and deft kicks in behind the defence had the visitors scrambling.
Kurtley Beale was a constant threat for the Waratahs but his chances were few and the one time he did cross the line the try was scrubbed out because of a forward pass.
David Havili, handed the kicking duties for the Crusaders ahead of Richie Mo’unga, traded early penalties with Waratahs flyhalf Will Harrison.
But once the early testing exchanges were over, the Crusaders switched to try-scoring mode.
Outside backs Will Jordan, Braydon Ennor and Leicester Faingaanuku all scored in the first half, with Faingaanuku running 60 metres after claiming a precision cross-kick from Mo’unga.
Nawaqanitawase’s second try for the Waratahs after the break was also a 60-metre effort from an intercept as the Sydneysiders closed within six points and just over 20 minutes remaining.
But the Crusaders stepped up another gear with Ennor and Jordan scoring their second tries, both finishing long-range attacks while Luke Romano crashed over from close to the line.
Alex Newsome scored the Waratahs third try just before full-time.
Tries: Will Jordan (2), Braydon Ennor (2) Leicester Fainga”anuku, Luke Romano
Conversions: David Havili (5)
Tries: Mark Nawaqanitawase (2), Alex Newsome
Conversions: Will Harrison (2)
Penalties: Harrison (2)
15 David Havili, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 Leicester Faingaanuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 George Bower
Substitutes: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Cullen Grace, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Sevu Reece
15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Lalaki Foketi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons (captain), 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tom Robertson
Substitutes: 16 Damian Fitzpatrick, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Carlo Tizanno, 22 Mitch Short, 23 Jack Maddocks
Crusaders v Waratahs
@ Trafalgar Park
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Dan Waenga (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)