Sunday, May 10, 2009

Red-letter night for Crusaders

Semi hopes still alive as injury-hit Reds ravaged

Now the waiting begins.

Having belted the Queensland Reds 32-12 last night - a victory that included grabbing the all-important four-try bonus point to keep their hopes of defending their Super 14 crown alive - the Crusaders must now sit back and nervously watch how the rest of this weekend's fixtures pan out.

The permutations are many and varied on who can still qualify for the semifinals and that is likely to continue until the Sharks meet the Bulls in the final match of the regular season. But the only news that matters for the Crusaders at the moment is they are still in the race.

Now they need to replicate this effort by ramming a repeat dose of the same medicine down the Blues' throats when they meet at Eden Park in Auckland next weekend.

With 33 minutes remaining the Crusaders had already unwound the pressure valve, hooker Jason Macdonald dashing over in the corner for the bonus point after Thomas Waldrom, Owen Franks and Tim Bateman had scored in the first spell.

The Crusaders were always expected to romp home over the injury-ravaged Queenslanders, but this fixture was a potential land mine for the home side; aware they needed maximum competition points going into this match, there was a risk they would implode in their hurry to chase tries and run around like shell-shocked roosters.

This performance was not a polished gem, and the error count escalated when everyone was aware the result had been bagged, but they did what was required to grab just their second bonus-point win of the season in cold, slippery conditions that attracted a hardy crowd of around 10,000.

For fullback Leon MacDonald, who this week announced he will soon leave to play in Japan, this result on his home ground was fitting. The Crusaders may still be in the fight for a play-off spot but their chances of returning for a home semi are almost nil and the 56-test veteran, more than anyone, will be hoping the Crusaders can qualify.

The third try to centre Tim Bateman was the most spectacular, following a surge down the touchline by blindside flanker Kieran Read who unloaded a fine one-handed pass to Ryan Crotty.
The second five-eighth appeared to be out as he made the final transfer to Bateman, but referee Chris Pollock didn't ask for the television match official's aid, the try was awarded and the Crusaders went into the second spell with a 20-point lead.

A mighty Crusaders scrum signalled it meant business from the get-go, putting its opponents under enormous pressure early in the match and the front-rowers had it all over the Reds, who in the opening half seemed content to give away offside penalties, at the breakdown.

Not surprisingly Pollock had had enough by the 33rd minute and sin-binned pivot Quade Cooper for such cynicism.

The Crusaders again had their share of injury scares last night. Impressive No8 Thomas Waldrom played on after being knocked out in the second half and lock Isaac Ross was replaced at halftime after hurting his knee.

By the final quarter, coach Todd Blackadder unloaded his whole bench, leaving Richie McCaw at the end to play at first five-eighth.

Crusaders 32 (Thomas Waldrom, Owen Franks, Tim Bateman, Jason Macdonald, Sean Maitland tries; Leon MacDonald 2 conv, pen). Queensland Reds 12 (Ben Tapuai, Greg Holmes tries; Quade Cooper conv). Halftime: 20-0.

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