Monday, March 03, 2008

Cape Crusaders Clean Up!,111,2595,0,html/Cape-Crusaders-Clean-Up

March 1, 2008
The Crusaders have done it!

Tonight’s 22-0 success over the Stormers before over 40,000 in the auditorium at Newlands in Cape Town means that – for the first time since 2002 when the eighth Crusade was completed unbeaten – the Crusaders have departed South Africa unscathed.

Keeping the South Africans scoreless represented a further slice of history, as the Stormers had never before drawn a blank during a Super rugby contest.

It was also the second time in two years - following on from last year's 53-0 massacre of the Force - that the Crusaders had ensured an opponent failed to trouble the scorers in a Super rugby match.

The historical footnote aside, the Crusaders effort on defence should not be under-rated according to skipper Richard McCaw.

“Plenty of people talk about scoring in this competition, but it is defence that wins the big matches and makes the difference,” McCaw says.“We saw that tonight. The way the guys dug in to deny them was outstanding. They are a good team and certainly didn’t cave in at all. To keep them to blot was a big effort.”

The near capacity Newlands crowd was treated to just two tries, one from Crusaders halfback Andrew Ellis in the 24th minute, and another from winger Sean Maitland in the 52nd.

Ellis bagged his try sniping from close range at a ruck as the Crusaders attacked after soaking up some strong early pressure from the home side.

His score, backed up by two penalty goals from Daniel Carter, enabled the Crusaders to bank an 11-0 halftime advantage, which they doubled after the break.

The second try of the night allowed Maitland to kick start his Super rugby try-scoring tally, in a match he wasn’t originally slated to start.

He was only on the field from the kick off due to a mishap pre-game, which saw his fellow 20-year-old winger Kade Poki – who scored his maiden try for the Crusaders last week – ruled out due to a hamstring strain that was sustained during the warm up.

Like Poki at Loftus seven days earlier, Maitland had his uncertain moments under the high ball, especially in the game’s early stages, but he warmed to the task and made no mistake when presented with a pin-point cross field kick from Daniel Carter in the 52nd minute.

“I heard the call so I knew the kick was coming,” Maitland recalled later.“It was a great kick. I had the easy bit – catching it!”

The 20-year-old’s modesty belied the pressure he was put under earlier on in the game, when targeted by Stormers kickers who repeatedly poked the ball in behind him, forcing the lanky winger and his Crusaders team-mates to turn around.

Unfortunately for the home side, who slumped to their third straight defeat of the competition, for each question they asked; the Crusaders had an answer.

Having posted his first Super rugby try, Maitland could easily have had a second three minutes later, being given a free run to the goal-line after the Crusaders attacked from deep in their own half.

It was the most flowing attacking movement of the game, but was ruled out by assistant referee Brett Bowden who had spied winger Caleb Ralph’s foot graze the sideline as he initiated the assault by beating his marker.

“It was close, I’m not sure whether I touched it [the sideline] or not, but he [Bowden] seemed pretty sure,” Ralph said.

A third Crusaders try could have blown the game open.

Instead, the Stormers continued to press, only to be denied by the resilience of the Crusaders defence.

“They’re a good team. You saw that in the way they continued to come at us even when the game was beyond them. Sometimes the intensity can drop in that situation, but there’s certainly didn’t,” Crusaders coach Robbie Deans told the assembled media post-match. “If they can continue to show that sort of spirit and resilience, they’re going to hurt a few teams and get their share of wins before this competition is done.”

Nor was Deans disappointed that his troops were held scoreless for the final 21 minutes of the game, saying that said more about the tenacity of the Stormers than any deficiency on behalf of the Crusaders.

“We would have liked a bonus point if we could have achieved it, but we’re still delighted [with the outcome],” he said. “In this last week, we’ve achieved something – in terms of being undefeated in South Africa – that some very good Crusaders teams [including the 2005 & 2006 Super rugby champions] were unable to do. Importantly, we’ve also grown as a group, and hopefully will continue to do so as the competition develops.”

Importantly, the Crusaders also appear to have come through an exceedingly physical contest relatively unscathed.

Aside from Poki’s injury which means he is likely to be unavailable for the next match, the Crusaders should have a full muster to call on, with winger Scott Hamilton set to return after missing Cape Town due to a personal circumstance.

Lock Ali Williams dislocated his finger during the game but had it quickly put back in place.

“There’s some pretty sore boys in there [pointing to the changing shed],” McCaw said.“They’re tired, but they’re happy, and they’ve every right to be!”

While tough for the home faithful and side to swallow – & especially for the latter, given that the Stormers players will have to resurface at 5am tomorrow morning to begin their trek to Australasia, via Hong Kong; tonight’s outcome continued the Crusaders’ recent love affair with Cape Town.

The side relished the opportunity to prepare in the shadow of the stunning Table Mountain prior to bashing the then Erasmus-coached Cheetahs up on the high veldt at Bloemfontein last year.

Newlands also provided plenty of profit on the visits of 2003 and 2005 where, in both instances, the Crusaders piled on 51 points during handsome victories.

But the value of tonight’s performance is perhaps best taken in the context of the Crusaders’ most recent game at Newlands, in 2006, when the side sank to a shock 17-28 loss to the Stormers.

Incredibly, that was the Stormers only home win from seven home ties during the inaugural Rebel Sport Super 14 – and it was gained against that competition’s eventual champions.

Having lost their first two, the Stormers were equally as desperate tonight as they had been two years ago. History may also prove that the Erasmus-coached outfit is a better unit than its counterpart of two years ago, which makes the competition points that have been earned tonight pure gold.

Now it’s on to Perth, & an appointment at the one regular Super rugby home venue the Crusaders have yet to win at – Subiaco Oval, the ground of the Western Force.

The Crusaders and Force slugged out a 23-23 draw at their maiden meeting on the Australian western seaboard two years ago, with the memory of that gripping encounter sure to stir up feelings on both sides of the barricades ahead of the re-match on Sunday week.

Crusaders 22, Stormers 0
Tries by Andrew Ellis and Sean Maitland; 4 penalty goals by Daniel Carter
Halftime: Crusaders 11, Stormers 0

Referee: Matt Goddard (Australia)

No comments: