The blockbusting wing scored a hat-trick against the Blues at Eden Park last night and his double for the defending champions – both from attacking lineouts where his power and pace combined to make him virtually unstoppable – was crucial.
The margin for this five tries to two bonus point victory was clear-cut but it wasn’t as straightforward as the Crusaders would have liked.
Both teams were missing a host of players – the Crusaders’ latest casualties were Sam Whitelock, Sevu Reece and lock Zach Gallagher, the latter replaced on the eve of the match by Dominic Gardiner.
And while the Crusaders poured on 21 unanswered points after conceding an early penalty, their lineout wobbled in the second half and their attack lacked fluency, with pivot Richie Mo’unga making uncharacteristic errors in dropping three passes.
They made up for it with their defence, though, with their line speed and pressure in the contact areas, particularly in the first half, spooking the visitors who have already claimed the scalp of the Blues this season.
Fainga’anuku led the response initially by bursting through three would-be tacklers off a lineout move featuring Codie Taylor and he did the same in the second half when the Brumbies threatened a comeback.
After Braydon Ennor scored a well taken try through his perseverance in chasing a kick and Taylor scored one from close range, the visitors regathered after halftime and struck first via halfback Ryan Lonergan.
The try wiped away the Crusaders’ bonus point, and while they got it back when Fainga’anuku scored his second and the Crusaders’ fourth, Corey Toole took it away again when he outstripped the defence to narrow the gap to 28-17.
A comeback was unlikely for a side which last beat the Crusaders in 2009, but after putting themselves into an excellent position, the home side would have been disappointed not to take the five competition points.
The extra one duly arrived in the final few minutes when loose forward Christian Lio-Willie showed brilliant handling skills to catch and drive over after a Fergus Burke break. Lio-Willie earlier had a try ruled out on the same patch of grass for a double movement.
The victory takes the Crusaders up to third place on the table (15 points) behind the Chiefs and Brumbies but they are likely to be overtaken over the weekend by the Hurricanes (14), currently in fourth, and potentially the fifth-placed Blues (11).
Given the injury disruptions, and the potential distraction posed by the significant All Blacks head coaching announcement this week, coach Scott Robertson should be happy with the result, if not his team’s performance, although a calf injury to workhorse loose forward Ethan Blackadder will be a concern.
Props Joe Moody and Tamaiti Williams were excellent, with the Crusaders overpowering the Brumbies scrum in the first half.
Dallas McLeod continued his good form in the midfield and there was more good stuff from centre Ennor.
The star player once again, however, was Fainga’anuku, and the big question for the Crusaders may be how to get him into the game even more than he is now.