JON CARDINELLI reports on the Crusaders’ workmanlike 25-19 win against the Chiefs in Napier.
Dan Carter clinched the game with a drop goal in the 70th minute and finished the game with a personal tally of 20 points. It was an outstanding all-round showing by the All Blacks’ flyhalf who perhaps understood that if the collective was battling for synergy, he would need to take all points on offer.
Continuity is all but impossible when you play against a Chiefs side that specialises in breakdown spoiling. The Crusaders put together some promising phases but were repeatedly undone by the Chiefs hassling and pilfering at ruck time. It didn’t seem to matter that the Crusaders had Richie McCaw in their ranks. The Chiefs disrupted the Crusaders’ momentum, and effected some gut-wrenching breakdown steals.
That being said, McCaw’s men weren’t at their clinical best. Apart from their breakdown inaccuracies, they spilled the ball in contact regularly with the skipper contributing on several occasions. It was a frustrating first half as they turned over quality possession through handling errors, breakdown mistakes and wayward tactical kicks.
Carter was in a creative mood, sniping and probing at the Chiefs’ defensive line. The highlight of the first forty minutes was a linebreak from Carter that earned the Crusaders all of 60m, but unfortunately resulted in another turnover. Carter battled all night to link up with his centres, and that finishing class that was such a big feature of the Crusaders’ game in the first half of the competition was sorely lacking.
While the Chiefs received a number of opportunities to counter-attack, they also surrendered possession all too generously. Apart from their breakdown effort, there wasn’t the same zip and hunger that earned them a win over the Stormers last week.
Their backline failed to make an attacking impact in the first half, and showed their defensive frailty early in the second. It took just three minutes for Luke Romano to bust through a feeble tackle attempt and race away for the first try of the game. Carter converted as the game entered a defining period.
What set the Crusaders apart from the Chiefs was the amount of possession and their ability to create opportunities. By contrast, the Chiefs preferred to live off scraps and weren’t helped by their own ball-in-hand mistakes.
The Crusaders’ change in tactics also played a part in the final result, as Carter looked to kick the ball for his wingers to chase in the second stanza. The Chiefs succumbed to the pressure, and thus struggled to fight their way out of their own half.
The Crusaders didn’t have everything their own way, but played the game at the right end of the park as the clock wound down. Stephen Donald kept the Chiefs in with a chance with some long-range penalty attempts and also nailed a last-gasp conversion to earn a losing bonus point, but it was never going to be enough to force an upset.