They were brave and gallant, but Brad Thorn’s Queensland Reds were no match for the back to back Super Rugby champions in Brisbane on Saturday night.
The Crusaders juggernaut continues to roll on and shows no sign of slowing down.
Their winning streak now stands at 18 — a Super Rugby record — after taking down the Reds 22-12 at Suncorp Stadium.
The Crusaders scored four tries to two against the Reds.
But even more convincing than the scoreline was the way the Crusaders played.
They bashed the Reds’ young pack up front and crushed their fancied rivals at the set-piece, particularly at the scrum where their Test props Joe Moody and Owen Franks destroyed opposites Feao Fotuaika and Taniela Tupou.
Making the Crusaders’ faultless start to the season all the more impressive is that it’s been without their Test trio Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Codie Taylor, who have each been wrapped in cotton wool by New Zealand Rugby with the World Cup quickly approaching.
“It was a pleasing result, it’s a tough place to come over to get the win, so we’ll certainly take that,” Crusaders captain Matt Todd said.
“Especially that second half, we were able to get down there and get points at a crucial time at the game.
“It was sort of in the balance there at half time, 10-7, but came out in the second half and we were composed and built pressure nicely. and came away with some points and built a bit of a buffer which was nice.”
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For the second straight week the Reds played with plenty of desire and heart, but they lacked the execution to match their character.
The Reds’ kicking game was once again poor, they continued to push the 50-50 passes and their set-piece failed to fire.
“They’ve proven that week in, week out, champions back to back, they deserved it in the end, we just didn’t’ finish our plays and hold on to the ball,” Reds captain Samu Kerevi said.
Making matters worse for the Reds, they will be sweating on the fitness of boom centre Jordan Petaia, who left the field after 16 minutes with a foot injury.
Initial reports suggested the injury to be a sprain of the foot, but the 19-year-old, who was set to become the third youngest Wallaby of all time last November before a hamstring denied him some history, finished the match wearing a moon boot and is in doubt to take on the Waratahs at the SCG next Saturday.
“It really broke my heart,” Kerevi said of his injured midfield partner.
“You can hear it in him, he was really disappointed. But he’s got a bright future ahead.
“I know he’s going to work hard in rehab, whatever the injury is, we’ll have a look at it, but we’ll miss a guy like him out on the field.”
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The Reds could also be without versatile back Bryce Hegarty, who played the entire second half with a popped rib.
Early on it was all one-way traffic as the Crusaders crossed twice inside the first 10 minutes.
Braydon Ennor scored a simple try in the end, as Mo’unga kicked found his winger unmarked on the wing and with no defender within cooee of him.
It wasn’t long until the Reds once again found themselves scrambling, as the Crusaders burnt the home side on their left defensive edge and gun fullback Will Jordan finished off a brilliant long range try.
Petaia’a injury shortly after disrupted the Reds and left them without another strike weapon in the midfield, as Kerevi was forced to a play a lone hand in attack.
After some wasted possession, the Reds finally clawed their way back into the match and after turning down a shot at goals, Kerevi burst through the defensive line from close range to score.
Hegarty’s conversion meant the Reds trailed 10-7 at half time.
But the Crusaders quickly put the foot on the accelerator and turned up the head on their young opponents in the second half.
Whetuakamokamo Douglas scored off the back of a dominant rolling maul in the 49th minute.
Making matters worse, the Reds then lost Test forward Lukhan Salakaia-Loto to a yellow card.
The Crusaders collapsed on their numerical advantage as veteran back-rower Jordan Taufua scored to extend the lead to 22-7.
Reds flanker Liam Wright was denied a try in the 70th minute, after JP Smith was ruled to have obstructed Bryn Hall in the build-up.
Veteran back-rower Scott Higginbotham scored five minutes later to cut the deficit to 22-12.
But it was too little, too late.
The Crusaders holding on to claim their third straight win of the season.
They will next play the winless Chiefs, while the Reds travel south to take on the Waratahs in a must-win local derby at the SCG.