Super Rugby 2020: Under-strength, under-manned Crusaders still too strong for Sunwolves

Even without most of their All Blacks, even two men down, the Crusaders sounded a warning to their rivals, as Super Rugby teetered on the brink of closure for the season.

The three-time defending champions are still the team to beat.

The Christchurch-based side overpowered the plucky Sunwolves 49-14 in Brisbane, returning to the top of the competition table for now, with the Sharks and Brumbies capable of overhauling them this weekend.

With internationals Joe Moody, Scott Barrett, Codie Taylor, Richie Mo'unga and Jack Goodhue all left home in New Zealand (and not facing self-isolation for coronavirus), coach Scott Robertson fielded several fringe members of his squad, but they showed the depth of talent still exists.

They took 20 minutes to trouble the scoreboard, before Tom Christie scored the first try. Sunwolves equalised through lock Ben Hyne, but the Crusaders had their noses back in front before halftime, when Sevu Reece finished off an attack for his first try.

Immediately from the second-half restart, veteran lock Luke Romano extended the advantage, stretching a long arm out for a try, when he seemed well short in the tackle.

Garth April sliced through the Crusaders defence to give his team a comeback sniff at 21-14, but that was immediately snuffed out, when Reece registered his second try of the night, outpacing lock Michael Stolberg to find a gap in the line.

Braydon Ennor scores a try against Sunwolves
Braydon Ennor scores a try against Sunwolves. Photo credit: Photosport

Flanker Sione Havili finished off a superb passage of interpassing by the Crusaders, before they were reduced to 14 men by Hugh Roach's ill-advised elbow to a rival's head and a red card.

Moments later, they were down a second man, when Reece appeared to deliberately knock the ball on, as the Sunwolves threatened the try-line. The southerners were only saved a penalty try by George Bridge, looming as a last line of defence. 

Even down to 13 players, the Crusaders produced another stunning try to centre Braydon Ennor and soon after Reece returned, debutant Fergus Burke celebrated his arrival with a try after the siren.

The titleholders will now sprint home to Christchurch before Sunday's self-isolation deadline and may still take the field against the Hurricanes next week, depending on how SANZAAR responds to the coronavirus crisis.

Crusaders 49 (Reece 2, Christie, Romano, Havili, Ennor, Burke tries; Cameron five conversions, Burke two conversions) Sunwolves 14 (Hyne, April tries; April two conversions)

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