GEORGE BRIDGE RETURNED from a four-week injury lay-off to bag two tries as the Crusaders strengthened their Super Rugby lead with a 36-10 victory over the Lions in Christchurch on Friday.
In a rematch of the last two championship finals, the defending titleholders outscored the Lions five tries to one to get a bonus point and continue their domination over the South African club.
While Bridge was happily dominating the left wing, Sevu Reece — who had his move to Connacht cancelled last year — was just as commanding on the right, with a powerhouse performance that also produced two tries.
While the Crusaders made it look easy, coach Scott Robertson said there was still plenty to work on.
“It took us a while to get our rhythm in the scrums, and nine handling errors before half-time, but a great finish,” he said.
The Crusaders have now won eight and drawn one from 10 matches in their bid for a third successive title, while the Lions have slumped to a five from 10 record.
After a messy first half when the evening dew made handling difficult, Bridge took control of the match with two tries in two minutes early in the second spell.
After a series of lineout drives were stifled, the Crusaders produced an old-fashioned peel off the back of a lineout, and Bridge, returning from a hamstring injury suffered in round six, came off his blindside wing to score.
The Crusaders attacked immediately from the restart and Braydon Ennor found a gap to send Bridge on another run to the line.
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But it must be a disappointment to the All Blacks selectors that the 22-year-old Reece has opted to play for his native Fiji at international level.
He enabled the Crusaders to rid themselves of the slow starts that have plagued their game in recent weeks by being instrumental in their two first-half tries.
For the first, he came off his wing to draw in two defenders at second receiver before popping a pass to Ennor who raced 30 metres untouched to the line.
The Crusaders second try was all power after a Ryan Crotty intercept took the Crusaders on to the attack and Reece finished the move when he crashed through three tacklers, including sending Lions backrower Kwagga Smith flying backwards through the air.
After Bridge’s double to give the Crusaders a 31-3 lead, Ruan Combrinck scored an intercept try for the Lions before Reece produced another weapon from his armoury with a chip kick over the line and then outsprinting the defence.
– © AFP 2019
Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to get stuck into last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.:
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