RYAN VREDE watched the Crusaders make a statement of intent with a 33-18 victory over the Waratahs in Nelson.
For the first quarter you would have been forgiven for putting your money on the Waratahs for a comfortable victory, such was the Crusaders’ incompetence across all facets of play. However, they showed all the class they’ve become renowned for thereafter, tearing away to victory off the back of an excellent forward display, midfield dominance, a flawless kicking performance from Dan Carter and the desire to bring some cheer, however fleeting, to the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch.
The performance was superlative, but ominously, they are likely to get better and can still bank on the return of their inspirational captain Richie McCaw.
The Tahs, so good in the last fortnight, will reflect on this match and cringe. Their early tries came from the Crusaders’ errors, the first birthed from a scrum earned when Sonny Bill Williams, who started awfully but improved exponentially as the match progressed, threw a wild pass at Carter who knocked on. The second emanated from a Luke Burgess turnover, the scrumhalf then rounding off the move in the corner after an expansive attack and slick passing interchange.
However, that was as good as it got for the visitors, who were let down badly by replacement flyhalf Daniel Halangahu, in for the injured Berrick Barnes. Halangahu missed two conversions and a penalty before he was relieved of the kicking duties, but his nightmare continued when he threw the intercepted pass that gave the dynamic and powerful Robbie Fruean the first of two tries. Fruean’s second was vintage Crusaders, dominating the collisions and offloading skilfully in contact. Williams redeemed himself after his earlier error by deftly picking off Fruean despite the attention of two defenders. Carter kicked the conversion, his second, which followed four penalties, for a 26-13 lead.
Any ambitions of a comeback the Tahs may have haboured were shattered when Williams finished a move that again featured a bulldozing run from his midfield partner, Fruean.
The Tahs were patently distraught. They were being decimated at scrum time, battered at the tackle point and cut to shreds by a backline directed masterfully by Carter, whose centres were brutally efficient. Rarely has a Tahs team been made to look so impotent, so utterly devoid of attacking ideas. Certainly they didn’t help their cause by failing to do the basics well, but their desperation at 20 points down probably had everything to do with that.
There was a late consolation score for Afa Pakalani, but it didn’t plaster over a deeply flawed performance. They were completely outplayed by a team who, if they can replicate this standard consistently, will be very, very hard to beat.
Crusaders - Tries: Robbie Fruean (2), Sonny Bill Williams. Conversions: Dan Carter (3). Penalties: Carter (4)
Waratahs - Tries: Tom Carter, Luke Burgess, Afa Pakalani. Penalties: Kurtley Beale