WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Canterbury Crusaders’ Manasa Mataele scored three tries in the first half as they celebrated Wyatt Crockett’s record Super Rugby appearance with a 50-3 victory over the Sunwolves in Christchurch on Friday.
New Zealand captain Kieran Read, making his first appearance following wrist surgery last year, Ben Funnell, Pete Samu, George Bridge and Whetu Douglas also crossed for the home side who were celebrating Crockett’s 176th appearance.
Crockett, who led the team onto the field, surpassed the previous mark of 175 appearances racked up by former All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu.
Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo‘unga added three conversions, while Marty McKenzie also slotted two as the Crusaders dominated up front against a limited Japanese side, who kicked away too much possession and were restricted to a Yu Tamura penalty.
The Crusaders have won all seven games this season and head into next week’s match with the Stormers, who are also unbeaten before Saturday’s clash with the Lions, on top of the New Zealand conference with 31 points.
Having been battered by the remnants of Cyclone Cook over the last 24 hours, the surface at Rugby League Park was waterlogged, causing some issues with the players’ footing.
All Blacks utility back Seta Tamanivalu was the victim of the slippery surface when he skidded into Kotaro Matsushima, who was in the process of catching a high kick, and was given a yellow card by referee Nic Berry.
Tamanivalu did not return, having also received medical treatment after the collision.
Mataele, however, scored two tries while they were a man down and then added his third when he moved to the right wing to accommodate replacement Bridge.
The Crusaders pack, considered the best in the competition, had stamped their authority on the game early with Read’s and Funnell’s tries before Mataele scored his three in nine minutes to give the home side a 29-3 lead at the break.
The Crusaders pack continued to punch over the advantage line in the second half with loose forward Samu breaking the defence to score before a clever cross kick from Mo‘unga set up Bridge’s try.
Douglas also crossed following more concerted pressure, with McKenzie’s second conversion bringing up the half century, but the final 20 minutes was scrappy as the home side took their foot off the pedal.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ken Ferris