By RICHARD KNOWLER - The Press
May 4th, 2009
No foul-mouthed tirades. No punched walls. No kicked rubbish bins.
Following the shock defeat to the Cheetahs on April 26, the word from inside the Crusaders camp was that Todd Blackadder didn't go all "old school" and slam his mitts into any object or singe some eardrums with a few choice words.
Instead the Crusaders head coach was just disappointed, and probably very angry, with that limp effort.
While that fizzer could yet come back to haunt the Crusaders as the final calculations are made to determine who plays in the May 22-23 semifinals, there remains more than a flicker of hope they can defend their Super 14 title.
Saturday morning's 32-20 win over the Lions in Johannesburg was everything Blackadder wanted and more; the Crusaders not only collected a win, replacement hooker Daniel Perrin's fourth try also earned them a bonus point.
Whatever Blackadder's magic message was before the match at Ellis Park, he should uncork it again before the Crusaders meet the Queensland Reds at AMI Stadium on Friday night.
After a disappointing season with their attack, the Crusaders suddenly clicked to earn just their second four-try bonus point in 11 matches; now they need to do it again against the Reds. And probably against the Blues in Auckland the following week, too.
Whereas in previous matches where the passes went to ground or were bumbled forward, they stuck against the Lions and got the Crusaders over the all-important gain line where they took their chances and kept their support rumbling forward.
"The key for us was the preparation, the guys were really focused," Blackadder said yesterday.
"We just took our opportunities, where in the past we just had not been doing that. I think it's a real mental thing and I would like to think we we can go into the next match with real confidence on attack."
There was plenty that could have gone wrong in Johannesburg, even if the Lions are the competition's bottom-feeders with the most toothless defence.
The withdrawal of skipper Richie McCaw due to concussion sent tremors of trepidation through their supporters, but his replacement, Jonathan Poff, did all that was asked of him and considering his lack of game-time this season did well to last the full 80 minutes.
If McCaw's health remains a concern, there is no way he will play. Blackadder said that although the openside flanker was feeling well, they would continue to monitor his injury before making a decision.
With his regular backup George Whitelock still recovering from minor knee surgery, Poff will again be on standby for McCaw.
Unshackled goal kicking, first five-eighth Stephen Brett gave the backline what was missing against the Cheetahs, scored a try from a charge-down and his dabs to the line opened up the Lions defence.
His effort was in contrast to that of former Springbok Andre Pretorius, who made several basic errors with his kicking and largely had a match to forget.
Blackadder's decision to give fullback Leon MacDonald the goal-kicking job resulted in him converting five of his seven shots at goal, and he will be retained for the remainder of the season.
Despite the Reds being beaten 52-13 by the Brumbies, Blackadder remained cautious.
"Just look what happened when they played the Blues a fortnight ago (the Reds won 31-24) when they looked unbeatable. In this competition anything can happen."
ROAD TO THE PLAYOFFS
Here's what the Crusaders need to do to qualify for the semifinals:
1. Beat the Queensland Reds and Blues and also grab four-try bonus points from each game.
2. Pray for good weather and dry fields that will aid their attack.
3. Defend like twisted banshees. The bigger their points differential, the better. It may spell the difference between success and failure.
4. Hope that over the next fortnight lowly teams such as the Cheetahs can trip over the Bulls, the Stormers beat the Force, the Lions down the Waratahs and the Reds upset the Hurricanes. It all helps.
5. Plead with Sanzar to allocate some quality referees for the last two matches. Trust us, it makes a difference