All Blacks coach-in-waiting Scott Robertson has returned to his Super Rugby Pacific stomping ground to guide the Crusaders to consecutive wins for the first time this season, overcoming ACT Brumbies 35-17 at Christchurch.
Powerful winger Leicester Fainga’anuku scored a brace of tries in almost identical circumstances, as the southerners touched down five times, all converted by first-five Richie Mo’unga.
Playing with a substantial wind in the first half, the Crusaders led only 14-3 with the break looming and were defending grimly inside their own 22, when they turned the ball over and broke downfield.
From an ensuing penalty and lineout, they mauled to the goal-line, where hooker Codie Taylor scored off the back – a crucial blow that gave them some comfort in the changingrooms.
Both teams arrived at Orangetheory Stadium severely understrength, with the six-time champions carrying a heavy injury count, while their rivals left several international players at home on Wallabies rest.
The Brumbies struck early with a penalty, but Fainga’anuku barrelled over for his first try from a lineout, with Taylor running around the back and finding his winger running a punishing line that saw him bump off four tacklers en route to the line.
The Aussies conceded another try, after losing an attacking lineout in the Crusaders half, with winger Pepesana Patafilo hacking downfield and centre Braydon Ennor rolling over to score.
Taylor’s try after the halftime siren was a backbreaker for the visitors, who struck through halfback Ryan Lonergan soon after the restart. Fainga’anuku had his second from another attacking lineout and offload from Taylor, before Brumbies winger Corey Toole brought his team within 11 points.
Replacement loose forward Christian Lio-Willie had one try ruled out for a double movement, but could not be denied in the closing moments to secure the bonus point for the Crusaders. The result was the Brumbies’ first defeat this season.
“We happy for ‘Razor’ [Robertson], but we’re trying to keep out focus on the field and not get too distracted, I guess,” said captain Scott Barrett.
The performance was not a complete one – Mo’unga had a bad case of the dropsies in the first half and the Brumbies generally nullified the Crusaders lineout maul – while in-form flanker Ethan Blackadder hobbled off with a calf injury that’s likely to keep him sidelined for a few weeks.
They take on Queensland Reds on Friday.
Crusaders 35 (Fainga’anuku 2, Ennor, Lio-Willie & Taylor tries; Mo’unga 5 conversions) Brumbies 17 (Ryan Lonergan & Toole tries; Lonergan penalty & 2 conversions)