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Mid-year report card: Crusaders

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Thursday, June 21, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Played: 14
Won: 12
Lost: 2

Position: First in NZ conference and first overall
Leading Points Scorer: Richie Mo’unga (70)
Leading Try Scorer: George Bridge (9)

THE STORY SO FAR
Off to a flying start against the Chiefs (45-23) and the Stormers (45-28), the Crusaders then lost two on the road to the Hurricanes (19-29) and the Highlanders (17-25) but since then it has been an unbroken run that has well and truly set the pace in the competition. They beat the Lions away (14-8), unleashed a record performance in Australia against the Rebels (55-10) and came back from oblivion, 0-29 down, to beat the Waratahs 31-29. They are well in front and know the reward for continuing unbeaten is home ground in the playoffs.

QUICK TAP: MID-YEAR REPORT CARD - THE BLUES

BEST PERFORMANCE
Not even torrential rain could completely dim the rugby produced in the top of the table clash at AMI Stadium against the Hurricanes. There was plenty on this outcome as they went into the game with only one point separating them and the Hurricanes having won their earlier game. But down on experience with no Sam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Joe Moody or Owen Franks, the Crusaders were still able to turn on the power to score three tries to one through their pack while also restricting the potential damage that Beauden Barrett may have been able to cause. The Crusaders took the game 24-13.



BREAKOUT STAR
Given the qualities produced by so many of the side, especially in place of more senior players who were injured, it is probably unfair to give one player the label but if there is one it is first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga. Sidelined with a broken jaw for around a month, he didn't let that affect him when returning to slot into the form groove he enjoyed before his injury. Experience has only increased the control he can have in a game and it seems the more important the contest the better he performs.

WHAT'S NEXT
Given they've got the bye in the first round after the June break, there is every likelihood the points gap will narrow on them which makes the first of their two games before the playoffs, against the Highlanders, very important.

ROUND 18:
Crusaders v Highlanders, 7.35pm, Friday July 6, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
ROUND 19: Crusaders v Blues, 7.35pm, Saturday July 14, AMI Stadium

PREDICTION
While they are missing out on a game due to the bye, the Crusaders management have had the benefit of two games during the June break, against the French Barbarians and the Western Force. That could be significant for the non-Test players while those involved with the All Blacks will have the advantage of a week's break. The Highlanders will have had a tough game with the Chiefs and will go into their game knowing what they must do especially if they are still looking to claim a playoffs spot. That will ensure another derby battle for both sides.