Despite a fightback from the Super Rugby leaders just after half-time the Crusaders always looked in control and were deserved winners by four tries to two, with Nemani Nadolo a constant threat.
Having Daniel Carter back at fly-half pulling the strings gave the Crusaders a whole new feel as they played with the authority of old, building up a sizeable lead in the first half and keeping the league leaders at arm’s length throughout.
This was only the Hurricanes second defeat of the season, which is quite remarkable, and even with this setback they still hold a commanding lead in the New Zealand Conference and also at the top of the overall table.
But Friday’s defeat will have given Chris Boyd plenty to think about, given that the Hurricanes lineout and defence were far too sloppy.
Victory was absolutely essential for the Crusaders if they want to make the play-offs and it still may be too late, but this will give Todd Blackadder’s side a huge boost of confidence going into the final few rounds.
Nadolo was once again the architect of the Crusaders’ best moments, scoring a try of his own and making two assists with the break for Mitchell Drummond’s early score to set the hosts on their way and a fine offload for Matt Todd. The Fijian giant is going to be a superstar at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
An early interchange down the blindside from Blade Thomson and Julian Savea failed to produce a try as the Hurricanes threatened before Carter opened the scoring off the tee when Conrad Smith was penalised at the breakdown.
Working the Hurricanes defence, the Crusaders doubled their lead after the visitors strayed offside for Carter to make it 6-0.
Otere Black, the youngster who will head off to the Junior World Championship with the New Zealand U20 side in the next few days, continued to fill the gap left by Beauden Barrett’s injury and added his first points with a penalty, only for Carter to instantly reply after Reggie Goodes infringed at the ruck.
The Crusaders felt in full control and rubber-stamped their dominance with a well-worked try, Nadolo starting it off with a tackle-busting carry down the wing before feeding inside to David Havili and then Drummond for the score. Carter’s conversion made it 16-3.
Controversy then saw the hosts’ centre Robbie Fruean harshly sin-binned for a careless tackle – in the eyes of the officials – on Nehe Milner-Skudder, even though there was little he could do about it.
The Hurricanes capitalised by making the most of their man advantage and pouncing on a rare mistake from Carter when he missed touch, playing their way through the phases upfield for Dane Coles to score and close the gap.
Black couldn’t add the extra two, making it 16-8 to the Crusaders at half-time.
With the words of their coaches no doubt ringing in their ears the ‘Canes came back out with a bang. Ardie Savea impressed once again with his pace as much as his power, racing over after Ma’a Nonu’s grubber kick through for Smith came off and the flanker was on the shoulder to finish it off.
Black’s conversion made it a one-point game as the Hurricanes came right back into it, only for Nafi Tuitavake to score his first Super Rugby try down the other end as he did well to cling on to a low pass as Carter converted to make it 23-15.
A second penalty from Black cut the gap but Nadolo continued to cause havoc, freeing his arms in the tackle to put over Matt Todd for try number three.
Twelve points ahead thanks to Carter’s conversion, the Crusaders were cruising and made the Hurricanes pay for an off-colour performance when Nonu hesitated running back to cover a kick, with Nadolo sneaking up on his shoulder to dot down and secure the try bonus point and the result.
The Hurricanes did their best to end on a high note with a number of surges at the home side’s try line, but came away with nothing.
Matt Proctor and Motu Matu’u’s serious injuries saw them depart to give the Hurricanes some extra concern but this defeat might prove to be a necessary wake-up call going into the final few weeks of the season.
Crusaders fans on the other hand will be delighted with such a convincing victory, while wishing they had seen this methodical attacking approach a bit earlier in the year.
Tries: Drummond, Tuitavake, Todd, Nadolo
Cons: Carter 3
Pens: Carter 3
Yellow Card: Fruean
Tries: Coles, A Savea
Pens: Black 2
Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Matt Todd, 5 Jimmy Tupou, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Jone Macilai.
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Otere Black, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Ben May, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 Matt Proctor.
Date: Friday, May 29
Venue: Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Kane McBride, Richard Kelly
TMO: Chris Wratt