Crusaders overpower undermanned Rebels

The Crusaders have scored a bonus point victory over an under strength Melbourne Rebels team, winning 85-26 win at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.

The Rebels, ravaged by injury with 11 players unavailable for selection and others returning from stints on the sideline, were outscored 13 tries to four as the Crusaders continued their dominant Super Rugby form at home.

The hosts couldn’t have asked for a better start when Sam Whitelock, celebrating his 100th appearance for the Crusaders, opened the scoring in the third minute from a pick-and-drive after a charge down from Jimmy Tupou.

Five minutes later, Ryan Crotty crossed for the first of his two first-half tries when the Crusaders Outside Centre showed great pace to beat three defenders to score.

The Rebels’ injury toll worsened when Mike Harris, who missed last weekend’s game against the Stormers with an ankle injury, was substituted after just seven minutes.

The Crusaders added four unanswered tries in 20 minutes from Scott Barrett, Alex Hodgman, Nemani Nadolo and Johnny McNicholl to lead 38-0 before the Rebels responded in spectacular fashion.

Winger Sefa Naivalu broke two tacklers and split the defence before he found captain Nic Stirzaker in support to score under the posts for his first try of the season.

Crotty added his second try of the night on the stroke of half-time to give the hosts a 43-7 lead at the break.

The Crusaders picked up from where they left off when hooker Codie Taylor scored twice in three minutes after the break, followed by a third from Peter Samu.

Substitute Jonah Placid, who came off the bench for the injured Harris, returned to the sidelined three minutes into the second-half after a hard knock to the face for the second week in a row.

It was a bitter sweet night for Rebels Reece Hodge who then produced a sublime piece of skill with a chip and chase from 40m to score in the corner, before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his night.

The injury to Hodge handed Melbourne product Rob Leota his Super Rugby debut in the 52nd minute.

McNicholl brought up his hat-trick with two late tries but not before the Rebels added two of their own via Culum Retallick and Naivalu.

Retallick, who was making his run-on debut for the Rebels, darted from the back of the breakdown to score his first try for the club in the 73rd minute, followed by Naivalu five minutes later.

The Fijian turned from provider to try scorer when he broke clean down the right wing. A quick give-and-go with Tom English saw him cross in the corner for the Rebels fourth try.

“To the players credit they didn’t give in and kept playing until the end, we came into the contest with a high injury profile and with a few players with niggles but unfortunately we were outclassed in every department,” Rebels head coach Tony McGahan said.

“The Crusaders were dominant, accurate and meaningful in everything they did tonight and their quality of Rugby was proven in the score line.

“We need to dust ourselves off, ensure that we recover well and look at selection availability during the week with 11 already at home injured and losing another four tonight.”

Crusaders 85 (McNicholl 3, Taylor 2, Crotty 2, Whitelock, Barrett, Hodgman, Nadolo, Todd, Samu tries; Mo’unga 7, Nadolo 3 cons) defeated Melbourne Rebels 26 (Stirzaker, Hodge, Retallick, Naivalu tries; Debreczeni con)