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Crusaders vs Reds takeaways: Halfpenny disappoints, the verdict on Havili at 10

By Ben Smith
David Havili of the Crusaders reacts during the round 11 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Crusaders and Queensland Reds at Apollo Projects Stadium, on May 4, 2024, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The Queensland Reds came away with their first win since 1999 by beating the Crusaders 33-28 in a thrilling Super Rugby Pacific match.

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The Reds raced out to a 12-0 lead with tries to McReight and young star Tim Ryan, before building a 21-7 lead early in the second half.

The Crusaders mounted a comeback to level proceedings at 21-all but couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch as the Reds created history.

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Here are five takeaways from the Crusaders loss to the Reds.

Harry Wilson was phenomenal 

The Reds backrow duo of Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson continue to dominate. McReight had two turnovers won inside the first 20 minutes, but praise must go to Wilson for his continued hot form at No.8. He must be the Wallabies front runner at this stage.

The workhorse had 19 carries and 16 tackles in another industrious performance leading from the front, coming up with numerous big plays.

Player Carries

1
Sevu Reece
19
2
Harry Wilson
19
3
Levi Aumua
17

There are moments of class that won’t show on the stat sheet that highlight Wilson’s brilliance. On the Reds’ first try to McReight, Wilson took an offload of the deck to rumble play down inside the five. On the very next phase he ran a dummy line and made a late decision to let the ball sail onward to McReight to crash over.

Wilson sensed the defender coming hard, let the ball go one man wider who had a better chance of scoring.

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Before Toomaga-Allen’s try it was a one-handed pick up by Wilson around the 22 that cleaned up a bad throw. The Reds went Wilson carry, McReight carry, Wilson carry, McReight carry all the way inside the five. With penalty advantage, the former Hurricanes prop crashed over.

At 21-all he came up with some individual brilliance, charging down a David Havili exit kick and pouncing on the loose ball to score a critical try to put the Reds up 28-21.

The verdict on Havili at 10

After a nudge from the All Blacks coaching staff, utility David Havili was handed the No.10 jersey against the Reds. Given the state of play by Crusaders’ first fives this year, it was actually a winner.

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Havili’s skills shone through, with a beautiful cutout pass scoring the would-be opening try to Cullen Grace if not for a knock-on at the base of the ruck. His pass was crisp and on-target, allowing the Crusaders to run some decent shape for the first time this year. The set-piece plays looked a touch better with Havili pulling the strings.

There was one miscue with Sevu Reece, Havili popped a pass to no-one expecting Reece to be on the outside shoulder, but overall Havili demonstrated some silky playmaking, engaging the line before throwing a pullback pass like a natural.

He showed a booming leg in the backfield, his kicking out-of-hand was reliable, despite the charge down try to Wilson that came from a poor exit set-up.

The move to No.10 looks like it could be a winner for the Crusaders, and the All Blacks where Havili can cover multiple positions in the backline.

Halfpenny a disappointment

The former Welsh fullback didn’t set the world on fire in his first Super Rugby Pacific appearance. Renown as a metronomic goal-kicker, he duffed a sitter of a penalty early in the game from nearly dead in front.

The 35-year-old didn’t have the explosiveness required to make plays. On a first phase shift wide inside the Reds’ 22 early in the game, Halfpenny tried to beat the Reds’ flyer Tim Ryan on the outside instead of giving the ball early to Sevu Reece for a one-on-one with the fullback. Suffice to say Halfpenny didn’t have the gas and was brought down.

The Reds game plan involved lots of attacking kicks in behind into the Crusaders backfield, clearly targetting what they saw as a weakness. A number of these found the turf and only the bounce of the ball prevented tries being scored.

He was subbed after 43 minutes early in the second half.

Levi Aumua starting to look like a star

Aumua had a strong game carrying 17 times for 65 running metres. He beat 12 defenders as his bulldozing runs proved very difficult to handle.

He got the offload game going late in the first half too. He had successfully freed the left edge late in the first half and threw an offload around the corner for reserve hooker George Bell, just as he cut in field to clean. If he held his line he would have been over untouched for a try in the corner.

Another skilful offload moments later put Cullen Grace away down the sideline for a half-chance right on half-time.

His strong carry laid the platform in the Crusaders in the second half, almost scoring himself but getting held up. A shoelace pick-up on a crash line turned into seven when he burst through McReight and Wilson, stayed on his feet and crashed down a metre from the line. Quinten Strange scored on a pick and go on the next phase.

He sent Wallaby-hopeful Josh Flook flying three metres backward on a run midway through the second half.

Tim Ryan’s success part of a sea change for Australian rugby

Australia’s young star winger backed up his Blues’ hat-trick with a double against the Crusaders, including the match-sealing try by latching onto a grubber kick by Josh Flook. The skilful play saw Ryan use speed, brilliant anticipation and handling, and power all in the same move.

Ryan is part of a new breed of Aussie backs where being a natural rugby player is first and foremost.

Too often in the past Australia has valued vanity metrics over guys who are just good rugby players. The loss of Mack Hansen is a perfect example, but it seems there has been a sea change in thinking.

Both Reds’ wingers Mac Grealy and Tim Ryan are on the smaller side, but have proven to be reliable, wily, gritty, smart players. They anticipate play unfolding well and have a knack for making the right play.

On Ryan’s first try, it was Grealy who held the ball a touch longer to perfectly thread it in-between two Crusaders defenders. His timing pretty much made it impossible for the Crusaders to cover Ryan. A pass too early or too late may have bombed the opportunity, but Grealy got it right. It’s plays (and players) like that which have been missing for years in Australian Super sides.

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