WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Canterbury Crusaders secured top seeding for the Super Rugby playoffs in ominous style by running in 10 tries for a 66-0 thrashing of an outclassed Melbourne Rebels side in Christchurch on Saturday.
Wingers Braydon Ennor and Seevu Reece both scored hat-tricks as the defending champions, coming off a loss on their last outing, erased any doubts about their form with a ruthless display that handed the Australians their heaviest ever defeat.
Fullback David Havili also scored two tries while scrumhalf Bryn Hall and centre Ryan Crotty also crossed for the Crusaders, who cannot be caught at the top of the table even though they have a bye for next week’s final round of matches.
The Crusaders have 58 points while the Wellington Hurricanes, who have the second-best points tally but are fourth in the standings due to the conference system, can only finish on 54 if they take maximum points from their last two games.
The nine-times champions will host the eighth-placed team in the quarter-finals in two week’s time and enjoy home advantage as long as they stay in the playoffs.
That, on Saturday’s evidence, could well be all the way to the final.
The Rebels, who needed five points from the match to close the gap on the ACT Brumbies at the top of the Australian conference, had some chances but were unable to break down the home goal-line defence.
Stung by a 40-27 loss to the Waikato Chiefs last week in Fiji that was the culmination of a series of below-par performances, the Crusaders were in no mood to repeat the experience on a chilly night in Christchurch.
Their defence was stinging and they played much of the game in the visitors’ territory, forcing the Rebels to kick to exit their half and face the explosive home outside backs on the counter-attack.
Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga also exploited a narrow defensive line by the Rebels with a clever short kicking game, which continually turned them around.
The home side went into the break 24-0 up after Reece, Havili and Ennor got on the scoreboard, the latter’s two tries showcasing the pace, support play, distribution and versatility that have made him a contender for an All Blacks cap.
The Crusaders, who gave up a 20-0 lead in Suva last week, kept their foot on the throttle in the second half and could even afford to butcher a try or two without ever allowing the Rebels back into the contest.
Ennor should have grabbed his fourth try with three minutes remaining but knocked the ball on and it was left to Crotty to complete the scoring with the night’s most popular try in his 150th Super Rugby match.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)