The Crusaders have put their Super Rugby Pacific rivals on notice with a ruthless win over the Fijian Drua to strengthen their hold on second place.
The 61-3 win at Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium on Friday went as forecast, their nine unanswered tries against the newcomers a handy margin boost as they fight with the Brumbies for second spot.
The sides began the penultimate round equal on points, the 9-3 Crusaders with one less victory but boasting seven valuable bonus points and victory over the Brumbies last weekend.
The Brumbies must now beat the first-placed Blues in Canberra on Sunday to keep pace, a loss all-but confirming a third-place finish.
That would set up a quarter-final against the sixth-placed team, which will be either NSW Waratahs, who are sixth on 33 points or the Queensland Reds who are seventh on 31.
“Since the Waratahs game (that they lost) and even the Blues we’ve dug deep, looked at ourselves, our game and started to build on the foundation of Crusaders rugby,” captain Scott Barrett said.
“You never forget those sorts of games. The Force, we bounced back and had a challenge last week against the Brumbies and tonight was much tougher than the scoreline suggests.”
The Drua managed to link phases together with relative comfort, but couldn’t make inroads against the well-drilled host’s defence.
And their turnovers were punished, the Crusaders cruising with four first-half tries including a competition-high 10th for Leicester Fainga’anuku in the second minute.
Flanker Tom Christie and Fijian-born All Blacks star Sevu Reece bagged doubles while Fergus Burke, at No.10 in place of the rested Richie Mo’unga, scored a try and kicked all but one conversion.
The Drua, based predominantly in northern NSW in their debut season, finish a campaign next weekend that’s yielded two wins against the Chiefs while the Crusaders host the Reds.
“Definitely not our night, but the main thing is to learn from this against a champion side like the Crusaders,” Drua captain Nemani Nagusa said.
“You miss a couple of opportunities and you pay for that. But we’ll finish off against the Chiefs and come back stronger next year.”