McCaw and Carter return to top formMARC HINTON IN CHRISTCHURCH
They're back. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter tonight slipped into something resembling their world-class form as the Crusaders crushed the Blues 59-12 in Christchurch.
There must be a test match around the corner.
The same could probably be said of their Crusaders team in general who off the back of their season low point, may just have produced their most compelling display of this campaign, running in nine tries to make an ominous return to form, and climb back into second in the New Zealand conference.
Probably the less said about the Blues the better - though no doubt the talkback lines will burn hot this week with further conspiracy theories about the ineptitudes of this horrible team.
Suffice it to say they played a prominent part in making their hosts look so damn good.
At the start of this week Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder tore strips off his men after they'd coughed up that uncharacteristic 28-19 road defeat at the Melbourne Rebels.
It was a match champion red and black sides of days gone by would have gobbled up without breaking stride.
But this outfit fell apart in the second half, and Blackadder was none too happy about it.
He made that clear at the start of the week when he established a clear tone for this clash against the out-of-sorts old rivals from up north.
The game faces were on early in red-and-clack country.
Blackadder wouldn't have said as much, but he'd have been wanting to see his best two players head the response.
At their best McCaw and Carter are rugby royalty.
But neither had been near that level this season.
They were tonight as the Crusaders laid bare the inadequacies of this woeful Blues side, and ran up their highest ever score against them.
McCaw tore into everything, hitting rucks with ferocity and making ground with impunity.
It was a sight that would have put a smile on All Black coach Steve Hansen's face.
He's ready for the Irish, to be sure.
Carter looked rapt to be back in his familiar No 10 jersey.
He took the ball to the line with confidence, distributed beautifully and kicked the ball with the strength that begged the question: what groin injury?
The first 40 minutes told us all we needed to know about what sort of Crusaders team had turned up this week.
With their forwards running amok, and backs finding a fluency that has been largely absent this season, the hosts ran in five first-half tries as they dismantled the Blues for a 31-0 halftime lead.
It was hard to say whether it was the Crusaders being bloody good, or the Blues bloody awful - probably a combination of both - but the first 40 was an emphatic statement that the seven-time champions are very much still in the hunt for an eighth crown.
The Red and Blacks smashed the Blues in the scrum, picked them apart at lineout time and feasted off a host off errors - some forced, and too many coughed up with little resistance.
With McCaw marauding among a pack and having a field day, and Carter taking the ball to the line like the fearless competitor he is at his best, the Crusaders rattled up tries with regularity through the first half.
Matt Todd had the first via the lineout-and-drive after pressure forced Piri Weepu to cough up an error; Adam Whitelock made it 12-0 when he finished a regulation back move with Benson Stanley out cold in the Blues backline; and McCaw had the third off some classic sustained Crusaders pressure when the All Blacks' skipper did well to force in a melee of bodies.
That made it 19-0 just past the first quarter, and before the half was out Luke Romano (another big forward drive following more Blues profligacy) and Corey Flynn (finishing a gem of a slipped pass from Israel Dagg out wide) had got in on the act to take the advantage past 30.
The second half continued in similar fashion. Andy Ellis, Flynn (again), Zac Guildford and Tom Marshall got in on the scoring attack, and even the Blues managed to stumble across for a couple of five-pointers - both to Lachie Muno.
Romano - completing a dream week - and Sam Whitelock were superb in the Crusaders second row, their workrate through the roof; McCaw, Todd and the rock solid George Whitelock ruled the roost in the loose and Flynn had a statement sort of game. The scrum was dominant.
The home side's backs also enjoyed themselves, none more than Guildford who provided a timely reminder how well he can play when he gets ball to run on to. Ryan Crotty also had an influential game in the link stuff.
Crusaders 59 (Matt Todd, Adam Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Luke Romano, Corey Flynn 2, Andy Ellis, Zac Guildford, Tom Marshall tries; Dan Carter 6 cons; Tyler Bleyendaal con) Blues 12 (Lachie Munro 2 tries; Gareth Anscombe con) . Ht: 31-0.
Highlight reel: Corey Flynn's second try. The Crusaders at their best. Big D, turnover, sharp attack, ball retention, and a big finish.
Super man: McCaw and Carter were all class. But how about that Sam Whitelock? The ball-winning lock took also produced his most commanding performance of the season. Stop smiling Steve Hansen.
Status update: This was always going to be a game more about the Crusaders. And it told us they're far from a spent force in this competition. As for the Blues they were second-rate, second-string and a distant second in a one-sided contest. The respite was all too brief.