Crusaders hammer Rebels but miss out on trans-Tasman final

Leicester Fainga'anuku of the Crusaders takes on the defence during the round five Super Rugby trans-Tasman match against the Melbourne Rebels. MATT KING/GETTY IMAGES

The Crusaders won’t get a chance to add the trans-Tasman trophy to their treasure chest, despite winning all five regular season games in the compact competition.

Their 52-26 win over the Rebels in Sydney on Saturday afternoon fell short of the 33-point bonus point win they needed to surpass the Highlanders on points differential, before the Blues beat the Force 31-21 to book a home final next weekend.

The latter result officially killed off the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions, who scored a competition-high 35 tries but conceded 18 in five games, the same amount they leaked in eight games during the significantly tougher all-New Zealand competition.

Up 52-26 after Braydon Ennor scored with seven minutes to play, the Crusaders came agonisingly close to reaching their goal down the stretch, but Leicester Fainga’anuku, who had numbers outside him, went alone and had a try disallowed for double movement.

Loosehead prop Tamaiti Williams had not long spilled the ball attempting to score, as the Crusaders were left to rue lost opportunities, leaving at least three tries on the field and conceding some soft five-pointers.

“We all knew about it [requirement] the last five-10 minutes, but full credit to the Rebels, they just didn’t allow us to score tries. We got over the line, but we probably tried to force it a wee bit,” lock Sam Whitelock said.

“A couple of times if we just held the ball another phase, rather than try and score it yourself, we would have got there.”

Not helped by losing vice-captain David Havili to a calf complaint ahead of kickoff, the Crusaders lost his replacement – Dallas McLeod – to concussion just 14 minutes into the game.

Not that it stopped them from throwing everything at the team they’ve averaged 62 points against in their previous four matches.

They were at times superb running it out of their own 22, as was evident when Richie Mo’unga darted through a gap and put Will Jordan away for the second of their eight tries on the day.

They led by 19 when Sevu Reece finished off his hat-trick to put the Crusaders 38-19 up with 20 minutes to play, and will know they should have kicked on and finished the job.

Some credit must go to the Rebels, including Andrew Kellaway for his excellent try-saving tackle on Jordan, but the Crusaders will look back at some of their execution and be filthy.

After all, Mo’unga twice missed touch from penalties, Ennor bombed a certain try, and a loose Jordan pass led to a Frank Lomani try in the final quarter when the Crusaders didn’t need to play helter-skelter rugby.

In perfect conditions for running rugby and chasing points, the Crusaders flew out of the gates to score twice inside five minutes, and four times after just 22 minutes.

Indeed, it was all go swimmingly well at Leichhardt Oval. That is until Jordan was yellow carded in the 26th minute after it was deemed he deliberately knocked a pass on which was begging to be intercepted.

It slammed the brakes on the Crusaders’ pursuit for points as the Rebels dominated the rest of the half, scoring a nice try through sniping halfback Joe Powell.

The Crusaders would have led by more than 26-12 at the break had it not been for two coach killers.

If Mo’unga’s missed touch finder, which led to Powell’s try, was bad, the try centre Ennor butchered with time almost up was horrible.

Ennor was coasting clear to the line after some smooth passing inside their half unleashed him, only for him to inexplicably drop the ball on his way to the line.

Crusaders 52 (Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Sevu Reece 3, Oli Jager, Braydon Ennor tries; Richie Mo’unga 6 con) Rebels 26 (Trevor Hosea, Joe Powell, Glen Vaihu, Frank Lomani tries; Carter Gordon 3 con). HT: 26-12

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