WELLINGTON (Reuters) – There were no knights riding around the pitch beforehand but it was business as usual on the scoreboard as the Canterbury Crusaders rallied to thrash the ACT Brumbies 36-14 on Saturday in their first home match since the Christchurch shootings.
The nine-times Super Rugby champions trailed 7-0 at halftime but two tries each from wingers Sevu Reece and Will Jordan as well as a five-pointer from flanker Jordan Taufua after the break safely secured the bonus point win.
The victory extended their unbeaten streak at home to 23 matches and allowed the defending champions to stretch their lead at the top of the New Zealand conference to six points, while the Brumbies slumped to a fifth loss in seven matches.
Because of the associations with the medieval religious wars between Christians and Muslims, the Crusaders have embarked on a review of their name and branding in the wake of the shootings at two mosques on March 15 that killed 50 people.
In the meantime, they have also suspended the 23-year pre-match tradition of sword-toting horsemen dressed in chainmail riding around the periphery of the pitch to rally the crowd.
There was not facade of a castle at pitchside either but the ground, where the Crusaders have played since the 2011 earthquake flattened much of Christchurch and rendered their old stadium unsafe, has long been a fortress in rugby terms.
The Brumbies had not won in Christchurch in a decade but gave as good as they got in a frenetic first half without managing initially to breach the home try line, lock Murray Douglas coming closest only to spill the ball.
Crusaders prop Owen Franks, playing his 150th Super Rugby match, was sin-binned for a “no arms” tackle in the 27th minute, however, and Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano finally found a crack in the red defensive line to cross six minutes later.
Reece took only four minutes after the break to score the converted try that levelled up the scores and a further 10 minutes later Jordan crossed in the corner for his first.
Brumbies winger Toni Pulu was shown the yellow card for a high tackle as he tried to stop the score and Jordan crossed again only three minutes later after a searing break up the middle from flyhalf Richie Mo’unga.
No sooner had Pulu returned than Brumbies lock Sam Carter was sin-binned for a similar offence and replacement Taufua made the most of the extra space to go over under the posts.
Reece scored his second off an interception two minutes later and when Wallabies centre Tevita Kuridrani finished off a 90 metre move for a second try for the visitors three minutes from time, it was only going to be a consolation.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)