England XV 38 Crusaders 7: Danny Cipriani stakes claim for No 10 jersey in warm-up win
Stuart Lancaster's men scored six tries as they prepare to face All Blacks
The most English of New Zealand cities is also the most poignant place on the planet for rugby folk to congregate, hence the emotional charge surging through the capital of the South Island as international-class union finally returned to these parts after the 2011 earthquake.
Yet though Stuart Lancaster’s tourists had played their full part in supporting the relief effort since arriving in Christchurch, charity extended only so far. There was precious little of it on show once the game began.
England’s midweek “dirt-trackers” scored half-a-dozen tries, four of them in a first-half performance that laid the foundations for a first red-rose victory in this country in more than a decade. The Crusaders may have been just a little more resilient had their very best players been available to them – Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter and Kieran Read – but given the poverty of their recent record here, the visitors would have been happy to stick this many points on the New Zealand Under-10s.
There were good-news stories all over the place. Danny Cipriani, treated with tender loving care by the Lancaster regime since being called into the squad, repaid his rehabilitators with 47 minutes’ worth of eye-catching rugby at No 10, setting things in motion by creating the opening score for the hooker Joe Gray before the Crusaders had laid a meaningful hand on the ball.
Chris Pennell dives over for a try against Crusaders Meanwhile, the young Bath wing Anthony Watson lit up a more hotly contested second half with an individual try of high quality; Brad Barritt reaffirmed his value to the squad as a defensive linchpin; and Alex Goode played with his customary intelligence.
But on balance, the plaudits went to the forwards – most notably the skipper Ed Slater, whose industrial-strength work in the engine room had Lancaster drooling, and the open-side flanker Matt Kvesic, who reminded red-rose watchers of his existence by taking on an opponent as resourceful as the All Black scavenger Matt Todd and living to tell the tale.
“Ed is a good leader and a very good player,” Lancaster said. “I can see him pushing hard over the next season or so. As for Matt, it was the best performance I’ve seen since this time last year.” England scored four tries before half time
Kvesic’s return to something resembling top form could hardly be more welcome from the England perspective. In many positions the coaching staff are up to their eyeballs in potential candidates. In the breakaway position, the feast turns to famine. If there was a time when national captain Chris Robshaw felt under pressure to justify his Test place, that evaporated the moment the Gloucester pack engaged reverse gear at the start of the last Premiership campaign.
As a consequence of all that powder-puffery at Kingsholm, the unfortunate Kvesic found himself attempting to move his career forwards while playing going backwards. Sure enough, his rugby suffered horribly. Yesterday’s battle royal on the floor with the ravenous Todd was a turning point, to the extent that Lancaster is once again thinking in terms of two serviceable open-sides rather than one.
Watson’s effort just shy of the hour was the pick of the tries: a beautifully balanced solo assault from distance, executed at high speed. “When you think he’s fresh out of the Under-20s programme,” said Lancaster, who had no need to complete the sentence. It is an exciting thought.
Anthony Watson scores an individual second-half try for England against Crusaders in Christchurch (Getty)
Scorers: Crusaders: Try Todd; Conversion Taylor. England: Tries Gray, Foden, Barritt, Goode, Watson, Pennell; Conversions Cipriani 3, Myler.
Crusaders: T Taylor; J McNicholl, R Lee-Lo (R Thompson, 68), K Fonotia (A Whitelock, 50), N Tuitavake; T Bleyendaal, W Heinz (A Ellis, 50); T Perry (J Moody, 57), C Flynn (B Funnell, 57), N Laulala (S Tokolahi, 76), J Tupou (S Barrett, 30), J Everson, J Taufua, G Whitelock (capt, M Todd, 19), L Whitelock.
England XV: A Goode (C Pennell, 56); B Foden, H Trinder (J May, 56), B Barritt, A Watson; D Cipriani (S Myler, 47), L Dickson (R Wigglesworth, 47); A Waller (N Catt, 56), J Gray (D Ward, 59), H Thomas (K Sinckler, 56), E Slater (Leicester, capt), D Attwood (M Paterson, 68), J Haskell, M Kvesic, T Johnson.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
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