By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE - Rugbyheaven
The defending champions are right back in the mix. After going win-less for four rounds Todd Blackadder’s team have now stitched together three consecutive wins to reignite their campaign, the latest a desperate 16-13 victory in Christchurch.
They sit out the bye now and when they resume against the Sharks in Durban in a fortnight they should have injured skipper Richie McCaw – a water-boy full of advice at AMI Stadium – back in their ranks.
The Bulls meanwhile, find their season stuttering. Five consecutive wins have now been followed by two losses in the last two weeks in New Zealand.
This is a result that has further tightened a championship already compressing over the past few weeks.
And in that environment the Crusaders are as dangerous as anyone. They are a side, after all, who know that it’s the business end of this competition that matters most and they are finally starting to find their game - a bit.
What should be remembered is that throughout this mixed season from the red and blacks they have maintained one of the best defences in the championship. Once they add some real rhythm with their attack they will be a menace to any side in the competition.
The Crusaders looked to play a game full of pace with their attack going wide when possible. When they stretched the Bulls’ defence they proved effective going up the middle as well with their big men enjoying the raids.
The Crusaders’ attack started in fine form, full of high-speed accuracy. That dropped away in the second quarter when they squandered a couple of promising moments with poor handling.
Sadly it fell away further in the second half when they rarely threatened the Bulls tryline and in the end had to hang on grimly for their treasured win.
The Crusaders’ tight five proved more than a match for the Bulls. They enjoyed a surprising advantage in the lineout and produced a solid scrum that even managed to claim first half tighthead off the visitors.
All Blacks lock Brad Thorn was outstanding in all facets, including some crucial moments tidying up several messy situations in the dying stages.
Skipper Kieran Read led an energetic loose forward trio who managed to dominate the breakdowns and the turnovers.
Stephen Brett had a mixed night at first five but importantly he enjoyed a perfect night with his goalkicking and that proved the difference in the end.
The Bulls will lament this. But they too were guilty of too many errors and not backing their outside backs. They played for their conservatisim.
The Crusaders got off to a great start. A Leon MacDonald bomb found space inside the Bulls’ 22 and Colin Slade won it back, flicking on a quick pass for young lock Isaac Ross to score.
Brett added the conversion and a penalty soon after to make it 10-nil after 15 minutes.
The game swirled from one end to the other before the Bulls struck five minutes before halftime. Big second five-eighths Wynand Olivier, celebrating his 50th Super rugby game, broke through the tackles of Tim Bateman and MacDonald before sending out a good pass for flying wing Akona Ndungane to score in the corner.
The Crusaders weathered an early storm at the start of the second half and when they got down into the shadow of the Bulls’ goalposts they gave the visitors a taste of South Africa with Brett producing a well-taken dropped goal to give them an eight-point buffer.
Flanker George Whitelock did well to clean up a dangerous chip kick into the Crusaders’ goal as the Bulls found a bit more urgency.
The visitors made no mistake soon after when Ndungane dived over in the corner again.
Morne Steyn, who had missed both sideline conversions, slotted a penalty from wide out to tie the scores at 13-all and confirm a shift in momentum as the Bulls started to dominate.
These Crusaders weren’t finished though and they earned another three points courtesy of a Brett penalty to edge in front again with 15 minutes left.
They hung on grimly for what may prove a crucial result.
They get a chance for a breather now and the Bulls are left to contemplate the continuance of their Christchurch horrors where they have not won since the very first year of the Super 12 way back in 1996.
Crusaders 16: Isaac Ross try; Stephen Brett con, 2 pen, dg.
Bulls 13: Akona Ndungane 2 tries; Morne Steyn pen.