Crusaders thump Rebels in Super Rugby

The Crusaders have kept pace with the Chiefs at the top of Super Rugby’s New Zealand conference by thumping the Melbourne Rebels 85-26 in Christchurch.

The home side ran in 13 tries to four on Saturday night, with wing Johnny McNicholl getting a hat-trick, as they celebrated stand-in skipper Sam Whitelock’s 100th match in style.

With one round to go, the Crusaders are back to a point behind the Chiefs, who had secured their own bonus-point victory on Friday against the Queensland Reds.

The Rebels, who leaked 50 points last weekend against the Stormers, were out of finals contention before the match at AMI Stadium.

But the Crusaders, smarting from their loss to the Chiefs in Suva, had plenty to play for.

With regular captain Kieran Read given a rest, Whitelock led from the front, with the lock charging forward from the kick-off and then scoring the first try inside two minutes.

The Crusaders continued to show plenty of attacking intent as they went on to run in seven tries in the opening spell, with centre Ryan Crotty grabbing a double.

They were helped by handling errors, turnovers and missed tackles by the Rebels, who also struggled at set-piece.

The visitors had something to cheer late in the opening spell when, with the score at 38-0, skipper Nic Stirzaker finished off a strong run by winger Sefa Naivalu.

But the one-way traffic continued early in the second half as the Crusaders added three touchdowns in seven minutes, including a brace by hooker Codie Taylor.

There was a period of resistance from the Rebels, which included a kick-and-regather try by midfielder Reece Hodge before he went off injured.

The Crusaders responded with two tries in two minutes.

The Rebels then produced a late charge, with lock Culum Retallick dotting down from close range and Naivalu finishing off a counter-attack.

But McNicholl had the final say, getting his third five-pointer after the hooter.

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