GARETH DUNCAN watched Israel Dagg score a late try to give the Crusaders a 28-21 win over the Cheetahs in Christchurch.
The men from Bloemfontein showed a great fightback to overcome an 18-3 deficit early in the second half to draw level at 21-21 in the final quarter. The Crusaders bossed possession in the dying moments and battled against a resilient Cheetahs defence, which managed to hold up two try attempts.
However, on the third go, Dagg found space out wide and dived over for the match-winning score in the 75th minute. The Cheetahs finally grabbed hold of the ball in their red zone as the hooter blew, but after failing to make ground, Johan Goosen booted play into to touch to settle for the losing bonus point – a disappointing finish to the match for many.
While the Crusaders will be disappointed with their overall performance, they will be happy with the showing from their heavies, which set the platform for their 15-point lead earlier in the match.
The Crusaders forwards were dominant in the first half, as their Highlanders-like counter rucking overturned possession on numerous occasions while they also controlled the scrum contests. This saw the Cheetahs, who started the match with two new props in Trevor Nyakane and Lourens Adriaanse, penalised heavily at the set piece.
This saw Tom Taylor slot two three-pointers before the hosts kicked one penalty into touch, and scored a well-worked try from the resulting lineout – a smart backline move put Sean Maitland through for the first try of the match. The Cheetahs could only score a Goosen penalty as the half-time score read 11-3 in the Crusaders’ favour.
When Robbie Fruean dotted down early in the second stanza, the floodgates were expected to open as the Cheetahs are known for imploding in the final 40. But they didn’t on this occasion, as a brilliant counter attacking motion from their own 22 was finish off by Goosen and sparked a comeback.
The 19-year-old flyhalf kicked his second penalty before Robert Ebersohn burrowed through from close range. Goosen levelled the scores from the kicking tee.
It seemed that the Cheetahs had some ticker in the tank to upset the Crusaders, but Dagg ended their hopes after persistent attacking pressure from the hosts at the death.