(Reuters) – A depleted Canterbury Crusaders gave the Wellington Hurricanes a lesson in wet-weather rugby to end the visitors’ 10-match winning streak with a 24-13 victory in damp conditions in Christchurch on Friday.
The Crusaders, without at least seven front-line players through injury or suspension, controlled the ball through their forwards, punished their opponent’s poor discipline and produced a bruising defence to drive them back behind the advantage line.
The victory was the Crusader’s ninth in succession and moved them on to 50 points, extending their lead over the Hurricanes (45) at the top of the New Zealand conference and in the overall standings.
Lock Scott Barrett, prop Michael Alaalatoa and loose forward Heiden Bedwell-Curtis all scored tries for the home side, while Reed Prinsep scored a late consolation try for the visitors.
The match had been billed as potential precursor to the Aug. 4 final with home advantage throughout the playoffs likely to be claimed by whoever snatched the win.
The Hurricanes had been slightly favoured before the game as the Crusaders were without captain Sam Whitelock and vice-captain Ryan Crotty due to concussion, while props Joe Moody and Owen Franks were suspended.
Prop Tim Perry and loose forward Jordan Taufua were also forced out after sustaining injuries at an All Blacks training camp earlier this week.
The defending champions, however, were happy to showcase the depth in their squad and kept the game tight in a match that never really developed any great flow.
Crusaders’ flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who was named in the All Blacks’ squad for the June tests against France, showcased his growing confidence with a sound all-round performance and nine points from the boot.
The home side took a 7-6 lead into the break after Scott Barrett’s converted try was countered by penalties from his brothers Jordie and Beauden, but the Crusaders dominated the second half by controlling possession and territory.
Alaalatoa and Bedwell-Curtis’s tries were both set up by forward dominance and the number eight’s try from an attacking scrum essentially ended the game as contest when the home side opened a 24-6 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Prinsep scored a late try to give the Hurricanes a faint hope of a comeback they had barely deserved but the Crusaders starved the visitors of possession to comfortably run down the clock.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O’Brien)