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Crusaders beat Bristol in historic Ashton Gate fixture

By Ned Lester
The Crusaders perform the haka ahead of their clash with Bristol. Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images

The Crusaders’ pre-season northern tour got off to a rocky start in Cork last weekend in a tight loss to Munster, but the touring team had a chance to level their record in their second and final European game against Bristol.

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The reigning Super Rugby Pacific champions had flipped their starting unit for the game, ensuring they gave all available players a run on the tour.

Bristol named former international players in Kyle Sinckler and Steven Luatua among their 26 players for game day, while the Crusaders also had former internationals Willi Heinz and Ryan Crotty in their starting unit.

It was a poor start from the visitors who spilled the ball straight away after receiving the kickoff, the team recovered and claimed a steal at the breakdown after absorbing some pressure, backed into their 22.

It was just minutes later when the Crusaders knocked the ball on once more, with the conditions contributing to what projected to be another scrappy pre-season showing after a Munster clash where handling errors were prevalent.

Bristol was testing the Crusaders’ defence throughout the early exchanges, finding good territory gains, but patient attack went awry on multiple occasions in the opening quarter.

The Crusaders’ set piece came to the fore, winning a scrum penalty but both sides were finding handling difficult in wet conditions. After a kicking duel play returned to deep inside the Crusaders’ half.

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The visitors started to find their way into the game through more strong set piece and defence, but it was a game best played on that side of the ball and when the Crusaders stole or were handed possession it wasn’t long before another handling error was made.

A stray line out handed possession back to the visitors which resulted in a line out 10 metres out from the Bristol line, the ensuing maul was expertly defused by Bristol who rumbled upfield, eventually forcing an infringement and claiming a chance at a line out maul of their own. This time, the hosts executed and with backs screaming in to assist, the first points of the game were put on the board.

Fred Davies was the try scorer and AJ MacGinty nailed a tough conversion from wide in windy conditions at the 27-minute mark.

Having built some more consistent phase play with half-time closing in, the Crusaders started to get the better of the territory contest and were even held up over the line at the 34-minute mark.

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In classic Crusaders fashion, just a minute out from halftime Macca Springer crossed the line, profiting from some strong work in tight and a heavy carry from young centre Jone Rova.

Rivez Reihana added the two extras in another tough kick from the sideline and the score would be tied at the half.

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Both teams struggled to execute in their opportunities early in the second period, but after another disallowed Crusaders try the visitors look to open the game up a little.

Macca Springer wouldn’t be denied again as he collected a cross-field kick and swept in to score again, this time under the posts and Reihana again converted.

To make matters worse for Bristol, lock Joe Batley was handed a yellow card.

Just minutes later the Crusaders knocked the ball on in the line out and Bristol punished the mistake through a strong run from Gabriel Ibitoye before Kieran Marmion dragged the defence over the line to finish the play and MacGinty levelled proceedings.

Reserves started to make their way into the game and have an impact, especially Crusaders halves Noah Hotham and Taha Kemara, who got their team into another quality attacking position.

The next try came to the Crusaders after more tough carries right on the Bristol line, with Levi Aumua providing the muscle to finish the effort.

When the chance arose for the visitors to defend on their terms, they made reaching the gain line a tough ask for the Bears and had moments of swamping the breakdown to steal possession.

Kicking continued to feature heavily and the Crusaders’ set piece kept them in good stead for the match.

Crusaders hooker Ioane Moananu’s agility unzipped the Bristol defence late, handing a streaking Jamie Hannah the ball in space who eventually gave it to Noah Hotham, who crossed with just two minutes remaining. The game would finish 31-14 in favour of the Crusaders.

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Comments

1 Comment
P
Pecos 136 days ago

What do you mean, the tour got off to a “rocky start”? It was a preseason hitout for a D team of rookies & new combos. And it was a good game of footy, the difference being a missed conversion.

And don’t hype up this match either. Both teams played a load of rookies. A great occasion for young players to get some game time. Hopefully this can be a regular fixture for us.

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