Force captain Kyle Godwin admitted his team “rested on their laurels” before being blown off the park by a hungry Crusaders outfit in Perth on Saturday night.
A week after the Waratahs stunned New Zealand’s benchmark Super Rugby club, the Force were eyeing another boilover when Fergus Lee-Warner scored early in the second half to reduce the deficit to 18-15.
But that was as good as the night got for the hosts as the Crusaders snapped back into kill mode and scored 35 unanswered points for a 53-15 win.
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“They’re a classy outfit,” Godwin said.
“If you want to compete against them, you have to have an 80-minute performance.
“We weren’t too bad in the first half. But we rested on our laurels there and got punched in the second half. It’s disappointing. It’s back to the drawing board again.”
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Winger Leicester Fainga’anuku and fullback Will Jordan both scored hat-tricks for the rampant Crusaders, who are third on the ladder with an 8-3 record.
The Force, meanwhile, are 10th with a 2-8 ledger and were always in danger of copping a Crusaders backlash.
Fainga’anuku scored all three of his tries inside the first half to complete his second hat trick of the season, boosting his competition-leading tally to nine, while Jordan touched down three times in the second half.
With All Blacks playmaker Richie Mo’unga back in the driver’s seat after an enforced rest, they were certainly better on a night they ran in eight tries to two at a venue the Force have now lost eight straight matches at.
Mo’unga’s running game played a hand, highlighted by him running around Byron Ralston and putting Fainga’anuku in for one of his tries, as did his general kicking game.
However, not helped by the withdrawal of Oli Jager, Zach Gallagher, Mitch Drummond, and Dominic Gardiner due to COVID-19 – the Crusaders will still be unhappy with areas of their game.
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That includes their start, after they lost an early lineout, conceded a couple of penalties, and a free kick after Mo’unga took off without tapping the ball.
But, on a night Cullen Grace was forced to play lock, things quickly improved after they trailed 3-0 early, sparked by Bryn Hall taking a quick-tap and Fainga’anuku bashing over a moment later.
After the Force pulled to within three points early in the second half, the Crusaders flicked a switch after outstanding No.8 Pablo Matera muscled his way over in the 46th minute.
Jordan then ran amok, highlighted by his 59th minute beauty, when he steamed out of nowhere and latched on to a George Bridge chip and scooted down the touch line.
It was without a doubt the Crusaders’ best attacking performance in recent weeks, with a significant reduction in unforced errors sure to impress head coach Scott Robertson.
As will his side’s goal line defense in the second half, and the performance of debutant hooker George Bell, who played the second half and scored the team’s final try of the night on the final hooter.
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