Monday, February 25, 2008

2008 Super14. Day 2. Crusaders slaughter Bulls

The Crusaders, with their potent blend of old heads and raw talent, put the Super 14 on notice by scoring sevens tries to humiliate the champion Bulls 54-19 in Pretoria on Saturday.

Robbie Deans' side continued their perfect start to the 13th edition of Super Rugby where they are chasing a seventh title, embarrassing the Bulls at their beloved Loftus Versfled.

This wasn't a playoff of course, but it went some way to easing the Crusaders' memories of last year's semifinal loss at the same venue.

With their All Blacks standing tall and their youngsters learning rapidly, the '09 vintage looks capable of matching some of the best from red and blacks country.

Skipper Richie McCaw was in commanding form, Dan Carter controlled the game magnificently and Andy Ellis had a ripper of a match. But youngsters like Stephen Brett, Kade Poki and Nasi Manu will take plenty from being involved in a special result like this.

Brett was hugely influential with his crafty work at second five-eighths.

This was the first test of New Zealand-South Africa rivalry in the championship and the contrast in styles that comes with that.

For a while there was a worry that the Bulls' kicking game might win through. But class and enterprise were slowly but surely rewarded as the Crusaders kept their composure to ride out an early storm and then cruised home with ridiculous ease.

Ok, this wasn't the same Bulls team that gave the republic their first Super Rugby title last year. Take Victor Matfield, Bakkie Botha and Bryan Habana out of the equation and you significantly weaken any side.

Add in the bizarre absence of champion coach Heyneke Meyer who has walked away from the game and perhaps this was a major accident waiting to happen. How long before there are calls to reinstate Meyer?

But this was still a remarkable win for the red and blacks who have signalled to the current holders - and the rest of the teams involved in this tournament - that they want their trophy back.

Not that things went all go the Crusaders' way. They were under a predictable early assault from the fired up Bulls who charged out to a 12-nil lead.

The home side capitalised on some good field kicking to stay deep in Crusaders' territory and waited for the inevitable mistakes which Derick Hougaard turned into four quick penalties for a handy lead at the end of the first quarter.

But the Crusaders kept their cool and bounced back to dominate the final 10 minutes of the first half.

They made the Bulls pay for hanging off a restart and a beautifully weighted pass from Carter allowed Brett enough space to squeeze over close to the line.

Carter's conversion and a penalty soon after gave the Crusaders heart.

The, just before the break, the Crusaders broke free with Ellis and Brett setting up a direct route to the line. McCaw was the link man and he fed Ellis the final pass for the try by the posts. Carter's extras meant the Crusaders were in charge at 17-12 at the interval.

It looked like they had blown a grand chance to break clear immediately after the restart when Corey Flynn dropped a lolly of a pass from Brett with the goalposts in sight.

But McCaw made amends when he finished off an Ellis duck at the line by driving forward and reaching over for the touchdown.

Carter's boot kept adding the extras and there were two quick penalties as well as the Crusaders started to take charge of field position. Suddenly they had a real buffer at 30-12 with 25 minutes left.

That's always a necessity when visiting teams are operating at altitude with the Bulls notoriously strong over the final stretch.

But it was the Crusaders who continued to look the fitter and tougher side as the match wore on. Their tight five took control and their loosies were also in command.

They even managed to snare a crucial bonus point on the hour when they managed to work a half-decent overlap to young wing Poki who shrugged off one tackle and scampered to the line for a memorable moment in his blossoming career.

Next up, replacement flanker Nasi Manu charged down a Bulls' clearance and pounced on the loose ball in the ingoal to score with his first input into the match.

Then Carter taunted the Bulls defence and touched down against the posts as the rout continued.

The Bulls gained a late consolation try but there was still time for the Crusaders to notch their half century when Leon MacDonald ran on to a grubber kick from replacement Caleb Ralph to complete the humiliation.

Loftus, with 40,000 Bulls fans packed in, was silent, a far cry from the frenzied scenes of a year ago.

The Crusaders head south to take on the Stormers in Cape Town next week while the Bulls host the Sharks in a replay of last year's final.

On this performance, they are a long way off the glories of last season.

Bulls 19: JP Nell try; Morney Stey con, Derick Hougaard 4 pen.
Crusaders 54: Stephen Brett, Andy Ellis, Richie McCaw, Kade Poki, Nasi Manu, Dan Carter, Leon MacDonald tries; Dan Carter 5 con, 3 pen.
HT: 12-17

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