Moana Pasifika came to Christchurch for the first time this week to face the Crusaders at home in Round 7 of Super Rugby Pacific 2023.
It was a battle for the ages, a hard fought win for the boys in red and black who rallied around their star first five Richie Mo’unga, playing his 100th game for the franchise.
The crowds turned out in numbers to celebrate the milestone for Mo’unga, who plays his last season before jetting off to Japan on a three-year deal.
A guard of honour of a size rarely seen at Orangetheory Stadium welcomed Mo’unga to the field in enormous fashion, a haka from the No. 10’s former school St Andrews College topping the moment with energy and passion. Mo’unga had his kids in tow, perfectly symbolising the journey the man has been on since debuting for the Crusaders in 2016. Once a concreter training in the evening with the Crusaders Academy, the 28-year-old has since become a talisman for the club and a role model for players across the globe through his off-field efforts and on-field expertise.
Mo’unga opened the scoring in the 5th minute slotting a penalty before setting up Captain Codie Taylor for the first try of the night in the 12th. Mo’unga, the freshly-minted Crusaders Centurion, added the extras to make it 10-0.
Levi Aumua fought off two defenders to dot down for Moana eight minutes later, Lincoln McClutchie nailing the conversion to make it a three-point game. 10-7.
Moana continued the attack in the 24th, with quick ball to former-Crusader Ene Enari who hands off to Timoci Tavatavanawai who made quick work of the red and back defense. Offload to Aumua who gets across the line for a second to give Moana the lead! McClutchie with the conversion and all of a sudden the visitors are in front 10-14.
The action is thick and fast by now, as the Crusaders come together for a line out in the 34th. Collected by Quentin Strange – back in the team after injury sidelined him for a few rounds – and the maul drives forward. Taylor manages to sneak off the back and dive across the line for his second of the night. Converted by Mo’unga to loud applause giving the home side the lead once again at 17-14.
As the seconds ticked towards half time some fast play across the park from Moana lands the ball in the hands of play-maker Tavatavanawai on the wing. He steps through the last line of defense to give the visitors the lead again! Conversion from McClutchie makes the halftime score 17-21.
Moana looked dangerous with ball in hand in the first 40 and the scoreline backs that up. The Crusaders with work to do in the second stanza, words at halftime no doubt centering around capitalizing on possession and tidying up a few errors.
Within 10 minutes of the second half Dom Gardiner makes it two from two. Mo’unga with the chip into space, collected by Macca Springer who has also returned to the starting 15 after injury. He gathers, steps, and offloads to Gardiner who reaches for the line and gets there! Mo’unga finds the inside of the posts to flip the lead again to make it 24-21.
Some solid team effort in the 62nd extends the Crusaders lead. Burke wrestles the high ball and offloads to Springer who traverses the left wing and finds Dallas McLeod. The centre makes for the line and gets there. Converted by Mo’unga once again to make it 31-21.
Wil Gualter comes off in the 63rd to make way for Melani Nanai making his debut for the Crusaders.
Icing on the cake just before full time. Some quick hands following a kick into space from Moana and the ball finds into way into Nanai’s bands. A cheeky backhand offload finds McLeod in space. A looping pass in field to Willi Heinz who canters across the line. Mo’unga slots the conversion on full time to close out the game. Full time score 38-21 to the Crusaders.
The Crusaders no doubt happy with the win, and their ability to keep Moana scoreless in the second half. Moana equally pleased to put some points on the defending champs.
Friends and family gather on the field to see Mo’unga’s parents present him with a pounamu mere to mark his 100th and jubilation is evident in the No. 10’s eyes and in the cheers from the crowd who has stuck around to witness the moment.
United in victory and celebration, the Crusaders head into a bye week for some deserved R&R, ready to take on the Rebels on 21 April at AAMI Park in Melbourne.