By RICHARD KNOWLER - The Press
OPINION: At times the Crusaders' performance on Friday night was so dreadful that it would have been better suited to a slot on the Nickelodeon channel.
Laughable? Yep, because when a team of the Crusaders' calibre delivers an error-strewn performance like they did against the Queensland Reds the only alternative is to lean back and look at the lighter side of life.
The 41-20 hammering in Brisbane was so far removed from the previous weekend's 32-17 victory over the Highlanders that you have to wonder if the players took this result for granted, or if their opponents' appalling record, the Tasman flight or Queensland's weather softened their resolve.
The Crusaders' last defeat to the Reds was in 1999. And the last time they conceded so many points was when the Brumbies beat them 47-38 in the 2004 final.
When opponents think of the Crusaders they conjure up images of a heartless team that operates with machine-like efficiency – not one that delivers a performance whose low-lights package could be used as a quirky comedy on a TV cartoon channel.
Sound harsh? Well, anyone who sat through the full 80 excruciating minutes, in which the Crusaders made 17 handling errors and 24 turnovers and Reds playmaker Quade Cooper scored 31 points, might disagree.
The poor showing would not have stung so much if it was the young rookies that made the botch-ups. But it wasn't. Instead, the experienced heads were also guilty of flipping away intercept passes, poor ball maintenance, inaccurate tackles and ill-discipline.
The lineout was not without fault, either, but the Crusaders' biggest problem was that they could not hold the ball as they mounted attacks. Among the bumblers were blokes you would usually trust to catch an acorn dropped from a helicopter.
Captain Kieran Read and fellow loosie Thomas Waldrom battled to hold the ball and halfback Andy Ellis will not fondly recall his 50th match in the Crusaders jersey.
Arguments that Craig Joubert's tough rulings at the tackled ball area rocked the Crusaders are no excuse, because teams must adjust to the whistler's interpretations.
The last time the Crusaders played so badly was when they were swamped 43-19 by the Waratahs in 2004.
On that evening Richie McCaw, who was recovering from injury, was unloaded off the bench before returning to start in the next round against the Blues. Although the Crusaders lost 38-29 in that second-round encounter, McCaw's opening tackle on Daniel Braid was memorable.
If McCaw is used from the bench for next Friday's game against the Sharks we should expect sky-high intensity at AMI Stadium. It will need to be.