A sublime midfield performance by Aaron Mauger kickstarted the Crusaders to a stuttering 43-15 win against the Cats, who threatened to pounce for 40 minutes and then played pussy to concede 31 points in the second half.
Frans Ludicrous promised that his side would turn their season around in Christchurch. They didn’t. Cats supporters just prayed that their side would play with commitment. They did.
Indeed, a half-time score of 12-12 was arguably Ludicrous and his side’s greatest achievement thus far in the Vodacom Super 14. Two tries apiece, the Saders scores both from first-phase back play and the Cats both from well orchestrated forward rumbles, had the unexpected question uneasily settle over Jade Stadium: could this, just could this, be the upset of the tournament?
The injection of Richie McCaw and Chris Jack in the 47th minute injected the impetus to ensure the question didn’t remain unanswered for long.
Jack, in particular, shored up a wobbly lineout and marshalled the tight five so that the quality ball that the star-studded backline had been starved of for the first 40 finally materialised.
With King Carter and Magician Mauger as first and second receivers, opposing Earl Rose and Doppies la Grange, good possession was always going to equate to good tries.
Mauger and Leon MacDonald both grabbed their second scores of the evening, and subs Jack and Andy Ellis dotted down in the final minutes to ensure the try count went from two-all to six-two – a fairer reflection of either side’s quality.
There is a temptation to wax lyrical about a Cats performance that was a 200% improvement on last week’s humiliation in Sydney. That would be misleading, because even a 200% improvement was nowhere near sufficient.
As a professional entity, commitment should be a given and not a bonus. Those who slunk from the field after giving their all deserve neither the back-slap or the commiserations. The salary cheque and match fees they will cash is sufficient compensation for what should be the bare minimum in Vodacom Super 14 rugby.
Commendations are reserved, however, for captain Wikus van Heerden. Committed does not fully describe his effort, as his physical presence around the park had a sustained and meaningful influence.
It is a pity that Bok duo Ricky Januarie and Jaque Fourie could not emulate their skipper. Januarie was good in the first 40 and Fourie very good, as both showed the opportunistic instinct charecteristic of their Bok play last year. They disppeared in the second half and the Cats tiny chances of pulling off a win with them.
It is not often that a coach can reflect on 43 points, including six tries, and still find reason for disappointment. Equally, it is not often that a side can take 43 points, including six tries and still find reason for optimism.
It is not a compliment, but a graphic illustration of just how bad things have got for South Africa’s perennial travelling circus.
Tries: Leon MacDonald 2, Aaron Mauger 2, Chris Jack and Andy Ellis
Cons: Dan Carter 5
Tries: Wikus van Heerden and KleinJan Tromp
Con: Earl Rose
Pen: Tiaan Snyman
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
82 mins: Sublime work by Jack sees fellow sub Andy Ellis score the Saders sixth as they toy with the Cats in the second half. Carter converts. (Carter 6/7)
74 mins: A messy Cats lineout near their own line sees sub Chris Jack counter-ruck perfectly and stroll through to score. Carter converts. (Carter 5/6)
68 mins: Game over as the Saders score their fourth. It’s a second for MacDonald after the finest backline move of the game. (Carter 4/5)
62 mins: Cats not giving up. Strong forward play again wins a penalty shot. Tiaan Snyman is on the field and he steps up and knocks it over from in front. (Snyman 1/1)
50 mins: Great try Saders. Mauger gets with a wall in front of him, beautifully chips the defenders and gathers to score. Carter converts. (Carter 3/4)
47 mins: Richie McCaw and Chris Jack on for the Crusaders.
45 mins: A great kick from Carter sees the Saders win a lineout 6m out. The Cats scramble and hang on but concede bang in front. Carter takes the three. (Carter 2/3)
36 mins: Committed Cats attacks are finding headway. The breakdown is an area of strength for the Cats and the Saders concede a penalty contesting on the floor. Rose can hand the lead back to the Cats here, and he’s missed another. (Rose 1/4)
28 mins: Cats pack turn the Saders through 90 and win the feed. 22m out, and a good short side move sees Januarie burrowing within 10. The pack controls the ball well and a great charge by Tromp sees him score the Cats second. Rose hits the upright from the touchline. (Rose 1/3)
22 mins: Jorrie the legend Muller has the greatest chance for glory imaginable. Dan Carter’s forced to change direction, and throws a shocker of a pass. Muller is right in line for the intercept and a 70m canter home. Somehow the ball passes through his hands to Aaron Mauger, and he’s away. Carter converts from in front. (Carter 1/2)
16 mins: The lead is cut within five munutes. A very kickable penalty is turned down as the Saders seek the immediate answer. It’s a try from first phase as the Saders spread it down the line. It wasn’t anything special and they still score. Leon MacDonald scores it. Carter misses the conversion. (Carter 0/1)
12 mins: Cats draw first blood. 12 minutes of continued pressure finally results in points as a clever kick by Conrad Jantjes forces a 5m lineout. Great take by Tromp and drive by the pack sees captain Van Heerden over. Rose converts. (Rose 1/2)
7 mins: Wikus van Heerden opts for the lineout from a kickable penalty. They’re lucky to retain after hooker Delarey du Preez throws short, and the Saders knock on. Another 5m scrum for the Cats. They get within 30cm, and KleinJan Tromp knocks as he dives for the line.
5 mins: Cats win 5m scrum after Ricky Januarie reads a ruck perfectly and hacks it through from the base of the Saders forwards. Jaque Fourie is away and he puts the kick through. Leon MacDonald is forced to kick it dead. From the unstable scrum Gerhard Vosloo is prominent, and eventually the Saders concede the penalty.
2 mins: Greg Somerville concedes the penalty at the first scrum by scrumming in against tighthead Daniel Muller. Pretty easy chance for Earl Rose, and he hits the post. (Rose 0/1)