England registered a first win on their tour of New Zealand with a six-try, 38-7 defeat of a dogged Crusaders side at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Joe Gray, Ben Foden, Brad Barritt, Alex Goode, Anthony Watson and Chris Pennell crossed for Stuart Lancaster’s charges as the midweek team boosted morale with a measured display based on rock-solid defence and a powerful set-piece.
The Crusaders are top of the New Zealand conference in the Super 15 and, though they were missing a number of All Blacks such as Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, they contributed gamely to the contest. Todd Blackadder’s men actually gleaned slightly more possession over the 80 minutes, but for all the endeavour of Jordan Taufua and sole try-scorer Matt Todd, the hosts could not recover from England’s clinical start.
Bolstered by Dave Attwood, James Haskell and exceptional captain Ed Slater, Graham Rowntree’s pack had a gnarled, experienced look to it and immediately flexed its muscle with a dominant lineout drive from the halfway line up to the Crusaders 22.
Alex Waller rumbled away from the tail of the maul on his first start in a white shirt, linking with scrum half and Northampton Saints clubmate Lee Dickson to get well behind the hosts and foreshadow a punchy period of possession.
With his side well on the front foot, Cipriani stood up lock Joel Everson on a gorgeous outside break before feeding hooker Gray for a very slick score close to the posts.
Cipriani’s conversion gave England a 7-0 lead with barely two minutes on the clock, and their forwards did not relinquish the early ascendancy at set-piece – ensuring their fly half had a pristine platform from which to operate.
He fed Alex Goode from one strong scrum, and the Saracens full back probed the left touchline with a well-weighted grubber. Crusaders wing Johny McNicholl was too tentative and Ben Foden stole in, scoring England’s second with a fine piece of opportunism.
A fast start did not let up, Haskell and Tom Johnson making inroads around the fringes. However, when Attwood spilt an offload, the hosts sounded a warning when centre Kieron Fonotia led an effective attack on turnover ball.
England scrambled well to extinguish the danger, but that spark instilled the Crusaders with confidence and they grew into the contest markedly. Munster-bound fly half Tyler Bleyendaal looked composed and when Taufua made a monstrous hit on Haskell, the home crowd erupted.
Ben Smith and Julian Savea were devastating on the counter during Saturday’s second Test, and England got caught out there again when McNicholl picked a hole in their kick-chase on a searing arc.
Only an excellent cover tackle from Goode stopped the pacey wideman from adding to his six Super 15 tries this season, but England’s subsequent lineout malfunctioned.
Tireless open side Matt Kvesic could not quite disrupt a close-range attack and opposite number Todd burrowed over in midfield. Fellow All Black Tom Taylor made no mistake with a simple conversion and the Crusaders had closed their deficit to five at 12-7.
A mistake from Cipriani’s restart drained the momentum of Blackadder’s outfit though, and two further scores from England opened up a healthy lead before half-time. First some precise phase-play saw Brad Barrit plough over before skipper Slater – outstanding all evening – pickpocketed a Crusaders maul in a dangerous position close to the left touchline.
The ball was moved right though the hands of Henry Trinder for Goode, who punctuated a classy performance by dummying and dancing past two defenders. Cipriani added the extras for a 26-7 advantage at the break.
A turnover from the first restart of the second period would have been a source of frustration for Stuart Lancaster, especially as mobile No.8 Luke Whitelock charged to within five metres from Nafi Tuitavake’s pass.
Foden sprinted back to make an excellent tackle, and England’s linespeed forced their opponents all the way back to their own 10-metre line. On the 15th phase, Barritt and Haskell rushed up to force the turnover and the tourists had weathered a tough passage.
Fonotia and Taufua continued to carry hard and, thanks largely to some robust breakdown work, the Crusaders were edging the territorial tussle when Blackadder brought on Andy Ellis on 50 minutes. Straightaway the All Black scrum half was penalised for an aerial challenge though, allowing England a welcome foothold in terms of field position.
Stephen Myler, on for Cipriani, looked to dictate play thereafter and impressed after news that Owen Farrell’s knee injury will keep him out of this weekend’s third Test. Playing flat on the gainline, the Northampton Saint brought in fellow replacement Chris Pennell, who in turn released Anthony Watson. The Bath Rugby flyer has enjoyed another promising season and his finish was truly electric from 40 metres out.
Lancaster then emptied the bench, handing first starts to Christchurch-born Sale Shark Michael Paterson among others, and the game grew disjointed as a result. With the Crusaders maintaining excellent breakdown intensity and a majority share in territory, the likes of Slater and Kvesic – who racked up 17 tackles – could not ease off.
In the end that industry was rewarded when Barritt’s perfectly weighted grubber was pounced upon by Pennell and England cemented an excellent, assured win over one of New Zealand’s premier Super 15 franchises.
Crusaders: T Taylor; McNicholl, Lee-Lo, Fonotia, Tuitavake; Bleyendaal, Heinz; Perry, Flynn, Laulala, Tupou, Everson, Taufua, G Whitelock, L Whitelock.
Replacements: Funnell, Moody, Tokolahi, Barrett, Todd, Ellis, A Whitelock, Thompson.
England: Goode; Foden, Trinder, Barritt, Watson; Cipriani, Dickson; Waller, Gray, Thomas, Slater, Attwood, Haskell, Kvesic, Johnson.
Replacements: Ward, Catt, Sinckler, Paterson, Wigglesworth, Myler, May, Pennell.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Original story from RFU.