The Crusaders promised to play Test rugby in this fixture but unfortunately ran into an England side with just enough Test-quality performers, reports Alan Dymock from Christchurch.
It was billed as a ‘fourth Test’ on England’s tour of New Zealand, but in the end England won efficiently if unspectacularly against the Crusaders.
The visitors did just enough in the first half to ensure that they could roll the subs and run around looking for some structure in the second. Of course they still managed to tot up six tries to their hosts one, and although the Crusaders battled hard, particularly in the second half, they struggled to get much continuity in a match with certain members of the opposition having international pedigree. One of those players, Danny Cipriani is looking incredibly likely to be one of England’s substitutes against New Zealand this Saturday with Owen Farrell pulling out with a knee injury.
England started at a furious pace and only two minutes in Cipriani found himself eight metres out and able to shimmy, draw two and send hooker Joe Gray through the parted red sea. The fly-half always looked assured on the ball and a few skewed kicks aside, had control of his boot. The play was indicative of a night were England created holes while Canterbury were happy just to use simple hands, drift and hope that they could skirt round the sides.
Such invention was evidence when, in the games first flash of what-the-hell-was-that skill, Ben Foden sprinted towards a sharp grubber laced down the touchline by Alex Goode. Just as the ball spun over the head of home full-back Tom Taylor and into touch, Foden plucked the ball out of the air and walked the tightrope right to the try-line to score an unlikely five-pointer.
The Crusaders had promised to play Test rugby before this contest, but went too wide too early or were snaffled by an aggressive English defence. They did, however, score a first-half try through released All Black Matt Todd who careered over from pinched lineout ball. It was the only moment they were direct and dragged defenders over the gainline with them.
A few big hits aside, the rest of the half belonged to England and tries from Brad Barritt and Goode simply added gloss to the first 40 minutes.
Understandably Cipriani was hoiked from the pitch early in the second-half alongside Lee Dickson, with the scrum-half also in the running to sit on England’s bench against the All Blacks in Hamilton if a ’50-50′ Danny Care does not pull through this week, and England struggled to strangle the game from there.
It took until an hour was played before Anthony Watson carved a beautiful line, and as Chris Pennell spotted him and lifted a little pop his way, Watson burned in to score a try that briefly lifted the crowd.
The game ended up slipping into glorified touch and when Pennell sprinted through to flop on top of Barritt’s kick to score England’s sixth try at the death it did not really matter too much; England had their first win of the trip and gave their well-rested extras some much needed game time.