The Canterbury Crusaders moved straight into top gear as they started the new Super 14 season with a convincing 34-3 win over the ACT Brumbies on Friday.
The four-try effort ensured maximum points for the perennial favourites, who have won the championship six times.
Although rain and slippery conditions contributed to handling errors and a lack of fluidity in the first half, the Richie McCaw-led Crusaders clicked into their clinical best as the game wore on.
They led 10-3 at half-time and piled on 24 unanswered points after the turn.
With rugby’s experimental new laws in force for the first time in Super 14 rugby, both sides showed there was potential for fast-flowing play but were held back by the sodden conditions.
”The conditions made it a little tricky but I thought we adapted well and four tries, I’m pretty happy with it,” McCaw said.
”On defence we were pretty sound and even though it was pretty slippery we used the ball well.”
The power of prop Greg Somerville and the new locking partnership of Ali Williams and Brad Thorn saw the home side push the Brumbies forwards around mercilessly.
But the star of the Crusaders was fullback Leon MacDonald, who marked his 100th Super game with a series of breaks through the Brumbies defensive line, with the last one leading to Dan Carter’s bonus-point try on full-time.
The Brumbies, starting the year without their now-departed champions, George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, and with Sterling Mortlock injured, looked short of a steadying influence on the field.
In addition to being out-muscled up front — at one stage opting for a scrum instead of a free-kick and then being pushed off the ball — they also lacked timing in the line-outs and kicked too much possession away.
”The conditions were tough out there but that’s no excuse for the loss,” said captain George Smith.
”They were very dominant around that ruck area. We forced a lot of the errors as well.
”You’ve got to keep possession and keep the opposition team retreating and we didn’t do that throughout the whole match and the Canterbury team buried us.”
The Crusaders opened the scoring with a Dan Carter penalty in the 13th minute, to start his 19-point match haul, and the Brumbies levelled five minutes later with a penalty by Julian Huxley.
Just before half-time, Mose Tuiali’i scored the first of his two tries off the end of a MacDonald break, and with Carter’s conversion the Crusaders were up 10-3.
Tuiali’i’s second try, 10 minutes into the second half, was a credit to the Crusaders’ forward dominance as they put together 17 pick-and-goes before the big number eight crashed over the line.
Thorn marked his return to rugby union with a try in the 70th minute and Carter’s late try rounded off the game.
Carter converted all four of the Crusaders tries and landed two penalties. — AFP