The Queensland Reds have been taught a brutal Super Rugby lesson by the Crusaders, who cruised to a dominant 38-5 bonus-point victory in Christchurch.
Winger Jone Macilai-Tori scored a hat-trick on Friday night as the Crusaders shot to the top of the competition standings after their eighth win in a row, at the expense of the hard-working but hapless Reds at AMI Stadium.
Two of Macilai-Tori’s tries came inside the first seven minutes, a period that Reds interim co-coach Matt O’Connor said cost them any chance of breaking their 17-year drought in Christchurch.
“We gave ourselves a mountain to climb early in the game, conceding two tries and then not converting any of our own scoreboard pressure early in that first half, which probably took the game away from us,” he said.
“There’s some key learnings we need to nut away before we get to Wellington next week.”
It was an honest effort from the rebuilding visitors, but it was met with a harsh reminder of just how far they have to go to match it with the competition’s top brass.
They largely dominated possession and territory, particularly in the first half, but without star centre Samu Kerevi (broken hand) – the Wallaby-in-waiting who has emerged as their attacking spark this season – the Reds offered no real threat.
The Crusaders sat back, assuredly, choosing their moments and striking with venom when they did, and with five All Blacks on the bench, never looked in doubt.
They were 26-0 up before Queensland fired their first salvo, with a sublime chip from Jake McIntyre early in the second half bouncing perfectly for steamrolling rookie Campbell Magnay, who outstripped a lead-footed Crusaders defence to touch down next to the posts.
Yet the conversion attempt was a disaster – as if to neatly sum up the Reds’ woes in experience and execution, McIntyre’s kick was charged down.
The Reds continued to toil and even eked out a man advantage when Crusaders skipper Kieran Read was sin-binned for repeated breakdown infringements.
But even when they were a player short, the hosts still managed to extend their advantage courtesy of Jordan Taufua in the 63rd minute, and then again through Codie Taylor from a lineout drive six minutes from fulltime.
And to top it off for Queensland, the Fainga’a twins came away with injury concerns.
Anthony Fainga’a came off in the second half with concussion – he suffered a season-ending head knock in the same fixture in 2015 – but is expected to be fine to face the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium next week.
Saia Fainga’a is less likely after aggravating an old foot injury.