Well guys, if we wanted a game of two halves for 2023, this was the one. Despite the scoreline though, it was everything a fan would want to see. The Crusaders' clinical execution of strike plays allowed them to hold a half-time lead of 19-8, before they lost control of possession in the second half and finished off with a 26-27 loss, following a consolation try.
Is the Scott Robertson dynasty over, or can we expect a lifting of the game ahead of the playoffs? We'll attempt to find some answers as we rate the Crusaders from jersey number 1 through to 23, to see how each team member went.
CRUSADERS PLAYER RATINGS
Tom Christie (pictured in 2022 for Canterbury), finished the game with 19% of his team's total tackle count. Photo: Max Sharp.
Loosehead Prop - Tamaiti Williams (7/10)
Another week, another 61 minutes that will surely pencil Williams' name into the All Blacks. Gave a gallant display in a losing effort, for 12 metres, 4 carries, 4 passes and 6/6 tackles. The Crusaders will really be sweating on his fitness now.
Hooker - Codie Taylor (7/10)
Gave the game a decent go in open play for 1 try, 21 metres and 1 clean break off 4 carries, also making 4 passes. Taylor's lineout and tackle rates were both on target, though he'll be disappointed to have conceded a cynical penalty that resulted in a yellow card.
Tighthead Prop - John Afoa (5/10)
Replaced at half-time after featuring in a scrappy game that didn't quite suit his style. With just 1 metre off 3 carries, 1 pass and 4/5 tackles, Afoa's impact was more off-field than on-field this time, though the young and injured props will have very much appreciated his presence.
Lock 4 - Quinten Strange (4/10)
Strange worked hard for 17 tackles, but will be receiving a firm word from the coaches after his four misses. Strange also moved away from a ruck far too late in the 39th minute, that prevented Leicester Fainga'anuku from spreading wide enough on defence; allowing the Hurricanes' Billy Proctor to score. Ran 9 metres off 8 carries.
Lock 5 - Sam Whitelock (6/10)
With 5 metres, 5 carries, 2 passes, 5/5 tackles and 1 turnover, Whitelock was by no means having a bad performance when he got subbed off at half-time, so why was this move made? Was this for preserving him, or an injury? Let's hope Whitelock is okay.
Blindside Flanker - Scott Barrett (8/10)
Aside from his four missed tackles, Barrett had a fine outing in the 6 jersey both with and without the ball. His 6 carries amounted to 13 metres and 1 defender beaten, while 10 passes is a strong amount for a player in his position. 17/21 tackles and 1 turnover summed up Barrett's industrious defence.
Openside Flanker - Tom Christie (9/10)
With Marino Mikaele-Tu'u now off to Japan, Scott Robertson will surely find room for Christie in the 2024 All Blacks. Another workhorse effort from the 25-year-old, who made 28/29 tackles and slowed the Hurricanes' ball every time he entered the breakdown.
Number 8 - Christian Lio-Willie (7/10)
Lio-Willie ran hard for 20 metres off 6 carries and did a hard days' work from the jersey. Surprisingly stayed on after a shoulder to the head, resulting in Brayden Iose's yellow card, while contributing 4 passes and 8/8 tackles to the cause.
Halfback - Louie Chapman (7/10)
Although 7/13 tackles will be an immediate work-on, Chapman has to be commended for running into the 9 jersey at the last minute, starting on debut, so did well considering the circumstances. The 23-year-old proved promising in the basics of his role, so must be looked at for a full-time contract in 2024.
First Five - Richie Mo'unga (7/10)
With David Havili unavailable due to injury, Mo'unga filled in as the defensive sweeper and didn't slow opponents down quite as much, though his lone completed tackle was a try-saver on Ardie Savea. Had a good game on attack for 74 metres, 2 defenders beaten, 12 carries and 15 passes, while also winning 1 turnover.
Left Wing - Leicester Fainga'anuku (7/10)
Will have definitely given Dan Sinkinson and Billy Proctor some nightmares out wide with his 85 metres, 5 defenders beaten and 1 clean break off 12 carries, also scoring the opening try. Although Fainga'anuku's defence has improved enough to win 1 turnover, 4/8 tackles wasn't ideal.
Second Five - Jack Goodhue (8/10)
It's a well-known talking point that injury has decimated Goodhue's pace, though he had a strong defensive outing with 12/12 tackles, being just one of two starting backs not to miss a tackle. While not as strong as Havili in terms of the carry, his 12 passes assisted the team.
Centre - Braydon Ennor (5/10)
When Foster selects Ennor for the All Blacks this season, he'll cite opportunism for sure. Ennor touched the ball just four times, but still managed 1 try, 19 metres and 1 defender beaten. Caught off-guard on defence for 5/8 tackles in a quiet day on the job.
Right Wing - Dallas McLeod (5/10)
While McLeod has a decent defensive game and strong carrying, he isn't a winger. The Crusaders badly needed an extra option off the boot and this wasn't available, though McLeod did what he was asked to well, with 40 metres off only 4 carries.
Fullback - Will Jordan (8/10)
The ability to read the pitch isn't quite back fully, but Jordan is nearing his best for sure. Had a field day in the first half, for 74 metres and 3 defenders beaten from only 5 carries, coming in as an extra distributor to assist with clearance kicks as well. Nailed 5/5 tackles, having improved his defensive game while out of the game.
Reserve Hooker - Brodie McAlister (5/10)
Played for 27 minutes, replacing Lio-Willie during the period of Taylor's yellow card. McAlister did indeed keep the lineout running, though he didn't otherwise touch the ball. Made 5/6 tackles but was definitely outplayed by Jacob Devery at the breakdown.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Seb Calder (4/10)
A late change for Kershawl Sykes-Martin, replacing Williams for the last 19 minutes. Calder's own injury troubles were highlighted, slight rustiness had been created by his time away, though he was back firing and did his best, for 7/7 tackles. Had a hard time in the set-piece too. Great to see Calder back.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Reuben O'Neill (3/10)
Having spent a huge amount of time injured, O'Neill was playing just his second Super Rugby game since 2021. He worked hard for 13 metres and 2 defenders beaten in his only carry, also making 9/9 tackles, though he had a tough time at the scrum and failed to spread wide enough when defending near the breakdown; both fatal errors resulting in tries to Josh Moorby and Cam Roigard. Regular game time in 2024 will reduce this error rate.
Reserve Lock - Zach Gallagher (7/10)
Showed us the definition of an impact player with his work ethic around the pitch. Gallagher has simply put, become a different player since bulking up to the weight of a proper lock and had flourished, this time contributing a defensive effort of 13/13 tackles and 1 turnover.
Reserve Loose Forward - Sione Havili Talitui (6/10)
Averaged a tackle every two minutes in his 16-minute shift off the bench, with Lio-Willie not returning at the expiry of Taylor's yellow card. Havili Talitui was kept quiet, but as the 8 tackles suggest, did his best with what he was given.
Reserve Halfback - Joel Lam (No rating)
Received a late call-up for his Super Rugby debut after Mitchell Drummond's injury during training. Lam won't be rated after coming on in the last 10 minutes, but will be extremely proud of this day.
Reserve First Five - Fergus Burke (No rating)
Replaced Ennor with just four minutes to go, so won't be rated.
Reserve Utility Back - Chay Fihaki (6/10)
Fihaki came on for McLeod with 22 minutes left and didn't put a foot wrong on either of his two touches, running 20 metres, beating 1 defender and heading in for a linebreak while scoring his first Super Rugby try.