On a beautiful day in Nelson a capacity crowd packed into Trafalger park to see their Canterbury Crusaders take on the Westerner Stormers.
While on the surface it seems a bit odd to think of the Nelson match as a home game, it's quite obvious from the reaction of the crowd which team they support. The crowd was a sea of red and black, and fullback Leon MacDonald and lock Todd Blackadder, with their Marlborough ties, were obvious favourites.
On such a beautiful day, with a firm and fast ground both sides made it plain from the outset that they were keen to keep the ball in hand and spin it wide at every opportunity.
Mehrts opened the scoring with a penalty after 5 minutes, but the Storm quickly responded with a good try to No. 8 Tian Roux, which was converted by pretty-boy Percy Montgomery to give the Stormers a 7-3 lead.
The Stormers made some good attacking raids in the next ten minutes, with Breyton Paulse proving elusive, but couldn't turn them into points. 17 minutes in, Mehrtens slotted a great 50m penalty to close the score up to 7-6.
At the 23 minute mark the Crusaders had a rare attacking scrum (a quick territory stat at this point showed a 66%-34% edge to the Stormers) on the Stormers 30m. Ron Cribb stormed off the back of the scrum, showing great gas to elude the defence, and ran about 20 metres down the blindside before offloading to Justin Marshall who dotted down in the corner.
This was the first of the three tries that the champs racked up in the first spell.
The second was probably the most popular of the day, as Leon Macdonald, Marika Vunibaka and Caleb Ralph made a great break out of their 22 that ended in Todd Blackadder sprinting the last 20 metres and selling the cover defence a great dummy before crashing over the line.
Mehrtens converted to make the score 18-7.
The Stormers stuffed up the restart and a scrum back on the halfway line gave another good attacking opportunity to the Crusaders, who spun the ball wide and Daryl Gibson put a beautiful grubber through that allowed the Fijian flyer Vunibaka to regather and score uncontested in the corner. Mehrts missed the conversion, 23-7 to the Crusaders after 30 minutes.
The Stormers got a bit of possession again, and Percy made a scintilating 50m run, to return a deep kick from Merhts, which was ended with a jolt as Ron Cribb stopped him dead on the Canterbury 22 forcing him to spill the ball forward. Percy took a minute to get up from the hit, and limped off to the wing (he was playing at Fullback) to try and keep out of the play for a while.
There was some discussion from the commentators that he would try and survive until the half, I'm not sure why he would do that, if he's injured get him off ASAP!
The Crusaders did their best to steer play at Percy for the next 5 minutes but even though they maintained possession they couldn't force any mistakes from the Stormers defensive line. Instead Peter Roussow charged a Mehrtens chip kick on the Stormers 22 and started a counter-attack that ended with a second try to No. 8 Roux. Since Percy wasn't up to kicking anything halfback Dan van Zyl took the honours and slotted it through to make the halftime score 23-14 to the Crusaders.
Standout position of the first half appeared to be No. 8 with Ron Cribb continuing his devastating form with the ball in hand and making some big hits on defence for the Crusaders and Tian Roux for the Stormers with his two tries and some good defence of his own.
Percy left the field at the half, and was replaced by Bramm Van Straten, who slotted in at first-five with Markram moving back to fullback.
Merhts opened the second half with another penalty and a few minutes later Van Straten responded with one of his own to make it 26-17 at 52 minutes.
The Crusaders got some good territory and from a lineout just inside the Stormers 22 the forward pack rumbled all the way to the goal line only to be held up over the line. Not to worry as the resulting 5 metre scrum resulted in Caleb Ralph scoring out wide on a beautifully timed pass from Gibson. Mehrts converts and it's 31-17 and the Crusaders have earned their first 4 try bonus point of the season, WOO HOO!
60 minutes in, Greg Feek subs off for Con Barrell, Feek had a strong first game of the season, although I can't help but wonder if some of the problems with the scrums were related to his presence in the front row!
The Crusaders are really dominating things by this time, and all loving it. A couple of close chances went begging before the classy mid-field pairing of Mayerholfer and Gibson (and we have Berryman on the bench!!) combined to put Vunibaka in again under the sticks. Mehrts nailed the conversion and it was 40-17 to the home team.
At this point Robbie decided the game was won and cleared the bench, Mayerholfer, Robertson, Marshall, Maxwell, Mehrtens and Hamett all sat down and gave So'alo, Seymour, Flynn, Lancaster, Mauger and Macfarland a chance to get a run.
At this point the game got pretty loose, with all these subs coming on and fatigue starting to set in for the remaining starters it was always likely I suppose. Mauger showed some good touches in this time though, a definite class player for the future.
In these last 15 minutes player of the day Ron Cribb scored a well deserved try when he regathered his own grubber kick and Dewitt Barry scored the Stormers fourth try of the day to give them a well deserved bonus point.
With time all but up on the clock some dickhead from the crowd ran across the field with his shirt off. He didn't get far though as security put in a big hit on him and he was no doubt taken aside and congratulated on his courage and skill.
The final score as 47-31, yet another great win for the Crusaders in Nelson, we'll happily send the boys back there again next season!