Crusaders edge out Chiefs
February 14, 2009
The Crusaders' Tim Batemen is congratulated on a try bu team mates Richie McCaw and Jared Payne
© Getty Images
The Crusaders kicked off their defence of the Super 14 crown with a narrow 19-13 victory over the Chiefs in Christchurch.
The more things change the more they stay the same for the Crusaders who embarked on the new season with a new coach and minus a raft of experienced players now plying their trade elsewhere. But the departure of long-time coach Robbie Deans was barely felt as his successor, Todd Blackadder, enjoyed a grafting success in his first game in charge.
The Crusaders were in anything but vintage form, though, a litany of loose passes and handling errors ensuring this contest never rose to memorable heights. It took some typically determined Crusaders resolve to get them home in the final quarter, too, after Chiefs winger Lelia Masaga used his renowned pace to sprint around fullback Leon Macdonald for a 61st-minute try which lifted his team to within one point of the hosts.
The Crusaders spent the next seven minute camped inside Chiefs territory, applying pressure when they could and patiently awaiting an opening. It did not come, as the Chiefs stormed downfield on a counter-attack, forcing a 5m scrum when Macdonald was gang-tackled over his own line. But the Crusaders held firm and returned the favour, forcing a 5m scrum at the other end before counting down the clock in clinical fashion.
Their patience was rewarded on the stroke of fulltime when centre Casey Laulala scored his second try of the match, stepping inside one tackler before sneaking between two others to find the line. The first spell was filled with errors from both sides, while the scrum was a constant source of irritation as both packs infringed on a regular basis.
Between all the whistle the Crusaders found time for first-half tries to Laulala, following a delicate chip ahead by first five-eighth Colin Slade, and winger Tim Bateman, who scooped up a loose ball on halfway and outpaced his chasers. The Chiefs' sole try in the spell was somewhat fortunate, coming after an ill-directed kicked ahead from first-five Stephen Donald.
The ball screwed off the side of his boot but fortuitously bounced into the hands Masaga, who hared 50m downfield before offloading in the tackle for centre Richard Kahui to score.
Crusaders captain Richie McCaw was content with the result, but acknowledged his team were well below their best. "Obviously, being the first game of the season, you don't expect to be perfect," he told Sky Sport. "There were times we had them under pressure and perhaps our mistakes let them off but perhaps they felt the same.
"There were a lot of positives there for us and stuff that I guess you always have to work on."
Crusaders: Leon MacDonald, Jared Payne, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Kade Poki, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Brad Thorn, Ross Filipo, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Thomas Waldrom
Replacements: Jason Macdonald, Bronson Murray, Isaac Ross, George Whitelock, Kahn Fotuali'i/Steve Alfeld, Stephen Brett, Adam Whitelock.
Chiefs: Mils Muliaina (captain), Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Dwayne Sweeney, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Sona Taumalolo, Hika Elliot, Ben May, Craig Clarke, Kevin O'Neill, Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer, Sione Lauaki.
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche, James McGougan, Toby Lynn, Colin Bourke, Toby Morland, Mike Delany, Callum Bruce.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter