The Canterbury Crusaders overcame a heart-wrenching 10 days to send a signal to the rest of the Super rugby competition that it was business as usual after they overcame a slow start to dump the New South Wales Waratahs 33-18 in Nelson yesterday.
The New Zealand side had moved the game to Trafalgar Park following a devastating magnitude 6.3 earthquake on Feb. 22 that ripped the heart out of Christchurch, killing at least 163 people and leveling much of the central business district.
The team had also originally scheduled their first home match to commemorate the 29 victims of the Pike River coal mine explosion in November.
Both teams observed a minute’s silence before kickoff, while the majority of the sold-out crowd wore red and black, as did tens of thousands of New Zealanders yesterday in a sign of solidarity with Canterbury.
Ironically, the Crusaders had changed their normal strip, wearing specially designed shirts in the traditional red and white colors of the West Coast union, where the Pike River mine is located.
After canceling their game against the Wellington Hurricanes last week because of the earthquake, the Crusaders appeared rusty in the first 25 minutes making numerous handling errors and forcing passes in the face of an aggressive defensive line by the Waratahs.
The Sydney-based side established a 13-9 lead on the back of tries to inside center Tom Carter and scrumhalf Luke Burgess and a long-range penalty by Kurtley Beale.
Beale had taken over the goal kicking from Daniel Halangahu, who had missed three successive kicks, while his opposite Daniel Carter slotted three penalties to keep his side in the match.
The Crusaders, Super rugby’s most successful team with seven titles, then seemingly “switched on” and a superb scrum just on halfway shunted the Waratahs off the ball and changed the complexion of the match.
Robbie Fruean grabbed his first try when he anticipated a Waratahs’ attacking move, intercepted and sprinted 45m to score untouched to give his side a 14-13 lead.
He grabbed his second after another superb 15-man effort as the Crusaders forwards sucked in Waratahs defenders in close, recycled the ball to runners changing the angles of attack and then spreading it wide to Fruean, who barged through Beale to score in the corner.
Carter converted both tries and added a penalty to give the home side a 23-13 lead at halftime, which they extended immediately after the break when they again swept down field for All Blacks center Sonny Bill Williams to score his first Super rugby try.
Both sides then played the game between the 22m areas, with neither really threatening to score again until replacement Waratahs’ winger Afa Pakalani scored his side’s third try with 7 minutes remaining.
“There was a hell of a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves and the way the guys stood up was just awesome,” Crusaders captain Kieran Read said after the win.
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