Saturday, March 07, 2009

**ALERT** McCaw hurt as Crusaders crash
By MARC HINTON - Rugbyheaven

The Crusaders are down and it looks like their skipper Richie McCaw is out with a knee injury that won't help the defending Super 14 champions' chances of arresting their alarming form decline.

That was the upshot of a dramatic, if not exactly exhilarating, night at Carisbrook where the Highlanders upset their southern neighbours 6-0 to not only break a couple of long-standing records, but inflict a third straight defeat on a side that has set the standards in Super rugby.

If the loss, and the resultant hole that the Crusaders plunge into, wasn't enough, it also came at a price for the seven-time Super rugby champions who lost McCaw to a medial knee ligament injury in the first half that will likely keep him out of action for the immediate future.

The Crusaders were saying little about McCaw's likely prognosis after the match other than to trot out the line he will be assessed by team medicos on Monday when more should be known.

But they confirmed he had a medial ligament sprain, which is likely to make him extremely doubtful for next week's home match against the Western Force in Christchurch. At the least. After Saturday night's third straight loss, that now becomes must-win for the one-time Red and Black machine.

The injury news didn't stop there for the Crusaders, who also lost wing Jared Payne to a high ankle sprain.

But it's McCaw's injury that will have rookie coach Todd Blackadder losing the most sleep.
There was no doubt that after the influential openside left the field the Crusaders lost a lot of their shape and effectiveness at the breakdown, and certainly their discipline and execution around the field as they could find no way through the resolute Highlanders defence.

It was the first time in 14 years of Super rugby the Crusaders had been held scoreless in a match at this level, and the aggregate of six points was the lowest there has been in the history of the comeptition.

The match had been locked at nil-all at the break, and as the errors and big tackles continued to come in the second 40 minutes, it was only two penalties to Highlanders kicker Daniel Bowden that edged the home side into a winning position.

Not a good night at the Brook for the Crusaders who are now ninth on the table on just eight competition points -- two slots and a point ahead of the Highlanders.
Not that the great majority of the Carisbrook faithful were complaining after the first half of a rock n' roll double bill also featuring heavy metallers Shihad.

It's fair to say the Crusaders were rocked, and the Highlanders finally got themselves on a roll with their first victory of the season.
Afterwards home skipper Jimmy Cowan said he didn't care about the lack of scoring, just that his team had got off their duck and scored a second straight win over their old rivals.

"We had a clear mindset coming into tonight's game -- and that was to win," said Cowan. "At any cost. We didn't care how we got it," added the gritty halfback who returned from injury to lead a huge defensive performance."It's been a long time coming for the boys. They've been working hard the last three-four weeks. It's been frustrating to watch, seeing all the work at training and not getting the rewards on Saturday. So it's pleasing to come away with four points today."

The Highlanders host the Chiefs in Invercargill next Saturday night, and will begin preparations for that next week with a spring in their step. After they finish celebrating this one, of course.

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