A loss in the opening round wasn‘t the start Mitre 10 Cup juggernauts Canterbury have historically been accustomed.
Handily bested by their younger brother union in Tasman, something needed to change when they stepped out onto the paddock in Christchurch against Wellington on Saturday.
Cue the return of George Bridge and his majestic mane.
Absent for the side‘s 25-17 loss last week, the flying fullback made his season debut in a big way as he led the red and blacks to a 27-20 win over the Lions.
After a stellar season on the wing for the Super Rugby champion Crusaders, Bridge brought his form into the provincial game. The threat he posed allowed his the attack to run more freely in other parts of the pitch – which was a real struggle for Canterbury in round one.
Handling errors didn‘t help the visitors early on as they continued to give Canterbury possession, which equated in the hosts opening the scoring with a penalty goal from the boot of Brett Cameron.
Somewhat against the run of play, Wellington scored the first try of the match through midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen to give the Lions a 7-3 lead after 17 minutes. 10 minutes later, the visitors were behind by eight – with Braydon Ennor and Reed Prinsep crossing the stripe in quick succession. A try on half time to Cameron on the back of a slick passing move extended the scoreline to 22-7 at the break.
It was a similar story in the second half, though the roles were reversed. The Lions roared to life, adding eight points in seven minutes following the restart. However their defence was undone by some silky skills from Bridge midway through the half as the Canterbury fullback set up winger Caleb Makene for what would turn out to be the match-winning try in the 58th minute.
Impressive young loose forward Du‘Plessis Kirifi claimed a well deserved five-pointer late in the half, but the Lions were unable to muster another meaningful attack as they fell to their first loss of the season.
Crusaders 27 (Braydon Ennor, Reed Prinsep, Brett Cameron, Caleb Makene tries; Cameron 2 cons, pen)
Wellington 20 (Thomas Umaga-Jensen, James O‘Reilly, Du‘Plessis Kirifi tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop con, pen)