The reigning champions Crusaders opened their campaign with a comfortable 43-25 win over Waratahs in Nelson on Saturday.
It was the pupil outsmarting the master as the 10-time champions in hot pursuit of an unprecedented fourth straight title outscored the new-look Waratahs six tries to three.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, bidding to take his side to a fourth consecutive title was mentored early in his coaching career by now Waratahs coach Rob Penney and obviously learned well as the defending champions raced to a 24-6 lead at half-time.
They received a jolt midway through the second half when 19-year-old Waratahs’ flyer Mark Nawaqanitawase scored twice in three minutes to narrow the gap to 24-18 before the Crusaders finished off with three further tries.
The Crusaders showed their wide-ranging counter-attacking repertoire, mixing wide passes with close-range off-loads and deft kicks in behind the defence had the visitors scrambling.
Kurtley Beale was a constant threat for the Waratahs but his chances were few and the one time he did cross the line the try was scrubbed out because of a forward pass.
David Havili, handed the kicking duties for the Crusaders ahead of Richie Mo’unga, traded early penalties with Waratahs flyhalf Will Harrison.
But once the early testing exchanges were over, the Crusaders switched to try-scoring mode.
Outside backs Will Jordan, Braydon Ennor and Leicester Faingaanuku all scored in the first half, with Faingaanuku running 60 metres after claiming a precision cross-kick from Mo’unga.
Nawaqanitawase’s second try for the Waratahs after the break was also a 60-metre effort from an intercept as the Sydneysiders closed within six points and just over 20 minutes remaining.
But the Crusaders stepped up another gear with Ennor and Jordan scoring their second tries, both finishing long-range attacks while Luke Romano crashed over from close to the line.
Alex Newsome scored the Waratahs third try just before full-time.
Man of the match: It wasn’t a complete performance however there were loads of positives for the Crusaders. While for the Waratahs Kurtley Beale made a few noteworthy runs and wing Mark Nawaqanitawase’s second-half display was good. However, for his strong run and huge tackles, our nod goes to Crusaders wing Leicester Faingaanuku.
Tries: Jordan 2, Ennor 2, Faingaanuku, Romano
Cons: Havili 5
Try: Nawaqanitawase 2, Newsome
Con: Harrison 2
Pens: Harrison 2
David Havili, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11
Leicester Faingaanuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8
Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Mitchell
Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Cullen Grace, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Sevu Reece.
Kurtley Beale, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Karmichael
Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway,
7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons (captain), 4 Tom
Staniforth, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Chris Talakai, 17 Damien Fitzpatrick, 18 Angus Bell, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Carlo Tizzano, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Mitch Short, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Dan Waenga (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)