Needless to say, it was another tough night for Australian rugby.
Lead by a dazzling display from phenomenal All Black fly half Richie Mo’unga, the Crusaders demolished the Reds 63-28 in arguably the most complete performance a visiting team has managed over an Australian side on home soil in recent years.
It was the starkest indication yet of New Zealand’s overwhelming provincial superiority over their Australian counterparts.
However, despite the humbling defeat, Reds coach Brad Thorn said the only way the Reds and other Australian teams will improve is if they play more often.
Clear gulf between two sides
Reds coach Brad Thorn said simply that his side had been “punched in the face” by “a very fine rugby team” who were “clearly better in all areas”.
“Our guys were trying really hard … but playing against that quality, they don’t miss.”
That much was evident watching from the stands.
The Crusaders’ passing was crisper, they attacked the line with more intent and offloaded brilliantly to supporting runners who were always there to pound away at the Reds’ line.
Mo’unga was simply immense for the Crusaders, the 26-year-old pulling strings all over the Lang Park turf for the full 80 minutes, scoring three tries and converting eight off the tee to give him a personal tally of 31 points.
The individual skill for his third try was breathtaking, feigning once with his shoulders, then skipping away with his feet before bursting between an impossibly small gap to dot down under the posts.
“Wow,” was all Crusaders coach Scott Robertson could muster when asked to talk of his performance.
“He’s pretty special isn’t he.
The Reds, who could have scored early on through Taniela Tupou, were guilty of handing over possession and being punished brutally for it.
They could get away with giving the ball away in Super Rugby AU, but were found out when doing the same against the Kiwis.
Although the Reds were able to claw back some respectability in the second half through some stunning work by Harry Wilson, including a magical pass to release Suliasi Vunivalu, there was not enough of it, and it was overwhelmed by everything that the Crusaders bought.
“We knew if we kept the tempo of the game really high and took as many opportunities early, we might get away with them, and we did,” Robertson said post-match.
“We had to be a bit more desperate than [the Reds] were.”
That Robertson spoke of the need for desperation after last week, despite winning last time out against the Brumbies, perhaps speaks louder than anything else.
The fact that the Crusaders did not secure a bonus point against the second best team in Australia was seemingly deemed serious enough an affront that a response was required
Getting the win against Australian sides is just a given.
Trans-Tasman competition essential for Australian sides
This match had been billed as champions vs champions: The Super Rugby AU champions against the very best from Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Robertson gleefully admitted that was a motivating factor for his team, but was more serious when asked what the result said about the gap between the two sides.
“There’s a gulf, isn’t there, which is a real shame,” Robertson said.
He looked like he meant it, too.
The strength of Australian sides has been a concern for New Zealanders ahead of this competition in recent weeks.
That the current ledger reads New Zealand 10, Australia 0 after two weeks does nothing to dispel those thoughts that the Aussie sides are just not up to it.
The aggregate score across this weekend’s five games was 209-96, with the Kiwi sides running in 30 tries between them.
The reality is, that as much as Super Rugby AU has been an overwhelming success in terms of entertainment, it has to be viewed through the prism that the New Zealanders are doing the exact same thing, just at a far higher quality.
Thorn did not shy away from that fact in his post match, holding up the Crusaders as the benchmark.
“That’s where we want to be,” Thorn said.
The Reds coach also said the result highlighted that in order to get better against the New Zealand teams, the Australians simply had to play against their trans-Tasman colleagues more regularly.
“I said all year we need to play the New Zealanders,” Thorn said.
“Tonight, we got a punch in the face, but I said in the locker room afterwards, ‘there’s the standard, that’s it’.
“If we want to go somewhere, we’ve got to play them, and we want to play them. And we want to win.”