Super Rugby Pacific: Depleted Crusaders overcome Queensland Reds, as momentum builds for champions

Six-time defending champions Crusaders have overcome a crippling injury count to shade Queensland Reds 25-12 for their third straight Super Rugby Pacific win.

The southerners arrived at Brisbane with 16 players unavailable and several rookies exposed to the top level.

Even as fulltime approached with victory assured, the Crusaders - and perhaps the All Blacks - may have lost another frontline performer, as prop George Bower hobbled off Suncorp Stadium.

After a rocky start to the season, with losses to the Chiefs and Fijian Drua in their first three outings, the titleholders have righted their campaign with consecutive wins over the Blues, ACT Brumbies and now the Reds to reach third on the competition ladder, with games still to come this weekend.

Christian Lio-Willie in action against the Reds
Christian Lio-Willie in action against the Reds. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We were aware of the threats they pose at the breakdown," reflected Crusaders captain Scott Barrett. "We were probably a bit ill-disciplined on both sides of the ball as well.

"Happy to come away with the win, but by no means a polished performance."

The Crusaders struggled to get their hands on the ball for the first quarter hour, but Queensland could not capitalise on their initial dominance, with second-five Isaac Henry badly pulling a relatively simple penalty attempt left.

Crusaders first-five Richie Mo'unga eventually opened the scoring with a penalty, before instigating the first try, when he found powerful winger Leicester Fainga'anuku running an angle off his shoulder.

They had another, when rookie halfback Noah Hotham sniped from a ruck and offloaded for lock Dom Gardner to score.

The Reds responded immediately, when Mo'unga failed to find touch with a clearing kick and halfback Tate McDermott stayed with rampaging No.8 Harry Wilson for a return pass to score.

Ahead 15-7 at halftime, the Crusaders were not safe yet, but they rode their luck, when replacement halfback Willi Heinz reached through a goal-line ruck to force for a try among the forwards.

Queensland weren't done, with McDermott kicking to the corner for winger Jordan Petaia to chase and score, but another Mo'unga penalty put the contest beyond reach, as time run out on the home side.

"We talked about playing with instinct and Noah and the guys in the middle found some space picking out the tight defenders.

"Every season, we draw upon the depth of the squad, there are some young guys stepping up and that's good to see. Hopefully, we get some reinforcements back in the next couple of weeks."

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson must now conduct a body count of his squad, before they host winless Moana Pasifika next Friday.

Crusaders 25 (Fainga'anuku, Gardner & Heinz tries; Mo'unga 2 conversions & 2 penalties) Reds 12 (McDermott & Petaia tries; Henry conversion) 

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