Thursday, February 07, 2008

Rotomahana Challenge - Waratahs v Crusaders,111,2565,0,html/Waratahs-Singing-in-the-rain
Waratahs Singing in the rain
February 8, 2008

The NSW Waratahs have come from behind to retain the Rotomahana Challenge Cup, rallying from 0-14 down to out-last the Crusaders 24-14 in the rain at the Sydney Football Stadium tonight.

Despite the match conditions being ordinary, with the rain varying between heavy and a light drizzle for the duration, the game still produced plenty of movement and its share of quality as both teams furthered their education of the new experimental law variations.

If the first half is an accurate measure, All Black first-five-eighths Daniel Carter is certainly up to speed with the changes.

In his first match back after a calf strain, Carter provided the star turn for the Crusaders in the opening half, laying on both of the side’s tries before he moved to the bench at the interval.

“It was always the plan to only play forty minutes – calf injuries can be quite tricky, but I was happy with the time I received,” Carter said. “The new rules were good. It definitely makes a difference having the opposing defensive line back that little bit. There’s much more room.”

Carter certainly made the most of the additional space as the Crusaders struck the opening blow in the sixth minute, and it came with virtually the All Blacks’ first attacking possession of the 13th Crusade.

After a first five minutes where the Waratahs attacked, the Crusaders secured the ball and Carter promptly split the retreating defence.

Although he was later cordoned off by a ring of Waratahs defenders, Carter didn’t lack for support and was able to stab a kick through for centre Casey Laulala to post the opening try of the game.

Carter converted the masterpiece he had created to give the Crusaders a 7-0 advantage.

The Crusaders continued to enjoy the ascendancy for much of the rest of the opening quarter but were unable to add to their point’s tally.

While the rain continued to fall steadily, the Crusaders endeavoured to keep the ball in play as much as they could. This meant scrumming kickable penalties, which the Crusaders did for no result immediately after the resumption of play in the second period.

They did gain reward shortly afterward, however, when Carter again provided the deft touch, flummoxing the Waratahs defence with a clever short pass which allowed his second midfield partner of the night, Tim Bateman, to stroll across un-touched.

The conversion opened up a 14-point gap between the two sides.

That was cut in half shortly before the halftime break when Waratahs halfback Brett Sheehan forced his way across following a concerted lineout drive by the home side.

The try was a good reward for a period of pressure, although the stiff nature of the Crusaders defence forced the home side to keep the ball in close, after their initial attempts to use the width of the field in attack had been foiled.

With referee Brett Bowden applying a greater use of the free kick to clean up the contact area than his compatriot Stuart Dickinson had five days earlier in Melbourne, both sides relished the extra space – and pace – that was injected into the contest.

The Crusaders further illustrated their awareness of the opportunities the ELVs have created by repeatedly catching their rivals out with quickly taken lineout throws from positions behind where the ball was taken into touch.

Having closed the gap just before the break, the Waratahs then moved to within four, two minutes into the second period when Kurtley Beale goaled a penalty from 38 metres.

The Waratahs then hit the front in bizarre circumstances when Beale relieved a surprised Caleb Ralph of the ball in a midfield contact, and bolted 30 metres to score unopposed.

The 19-year-old first-five-eighths conversion gave his side the led by three, with the Waratahs having posted 17 unanswered points in the game.

The match situation deteriorated further for the Crusaders two minutes before the three-quarter time break when the 18-year-old Waratahs winger Alfi Mafi finished off a sideline break by his flanker Rocky Elsom.

The try was again converted by Beale, which left the Crusaders staring at a 10-point deficit entering the final 20 minutes of play.

It was a gap they were unable to close.

The Crusaders came closest to scoring again with five minutes to play when a promising lineout drive was foiled by a slippery ball spewing free as the Crusaders appeared certain to score.

The loss snapped the Crusaders unbeaten pre-season run, while also completing a notable double for the Waratahs who’d also come from behind while keeping their opponents scoreless, during last week’s trial win over the ACT Brumbies.

Crusaders coach Robbie Deans was still upbeat post-match however, saying he was pleased with how the team’s pre-season had unfolded.

“We’ve achieved a lot, and there were some good things out there tonight,” Deans said. A lot of our younger guys had never experienced rugby at this level before so that was a great experience for them. It was also another valuable opportunity for the players under the ELVs ahead of the competition proper and we got a lot out of it.”

Nor was Deans dismayed that the Waratahs had been able to run his side down after major personnel and positional changes were made – which included playing Richard McCaw on the blindside flank, saying he paid very little regard to match outcomes in the pre-season.

“It would have been nice to get a tick in the win column tonight,” he said, “but it wasn’t a major priority!”

Fortunately the Crusaders have also emerged relatively unscathed injury wise, even though Leon MacDonald and Kahn Fotuali’i did leave the field with bumps during the game.

Both will be assessed once the team returns to Christchurch tomorrow.

NSW Waratahs 24, Crusaders 14
At Sydney Football Stadium, February 7

For the Crusaders: Tries by Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman; 2 conversions by Daniel Carter

For the NSW Waratahs: Tries by Brett Sheehan, Kurtley Beale, Alfi Mafi; 3 conversions and a penalty goal by Beale.

Quarter-time: Crusaders 7, NSW Waratahs 0
Halftime: Crusaders 14, NSW Waratahs 7
Three-quarter time: NSW Waratahs 24, Crusaders 14

Referee: Brett Bowden (Australia)
Rain, a bleeding Richie McCaw vs. a bleeding Cameron Spencer -and the Crusaders lost tonight in Australia! Getty pics below ; French Sydneysider pics above (MERCI!!!!)

No comments: