By RICHARD KNOWLER - The Press
Maybe the Crusaders should have cut a backroom deal with the Lions and booked their sports shrink for a few sessions last week.
They may have run in five tries to clobber the Lions 46-19 on Saturday night but the Crusaders' performance at AMI Stadium was largely underwhelming; too many silly penalties, handling errors, off-target passes and, at times, confusion between who was doing what.
This was a Super 14 match the Crusaders, even with Dan Carter on the bench and five newcomers in the starting side, were expected to win, although any neurotic types among the 20,300-strong crowd may have spent the opening 60 minutes in a dry-mouthed panic as the home side committed blunder after blunder against a side that has been kicked around the competition like an ugly cushion.
Following their embarrassing 73-12 defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney the previous weekend the Lions rushed out a sports psychologist to address their mental state and boost their confidence before facing the seven-times Super champions.
Perhaps, in hindsight, the Crusaders could have also benefited from a consultation to address any potential problems from the other end of the spectrum – how to convince themselves not to take their opponent too lightly and go hunting for scoring chances without getting the basics right.
Skipper Richie McCaw said the players were made aware of the perils of looking to pick the plums without getting their hands dirty: "But, I suppose, in your subconscious when you come up against a team that has conceded a few points you want to try and do that yourself.
"But the reality is these guys are going to attack, are proud people that are physical and force you into mistakes. And whether they are top or bottom, it is always a game you have to do the little things well to get the result you are after.
"I guess with all those little things put together that we perhaps didn't do it quite right."
Halfback Kahn Fotuali'i struggled with his handling and passing, lock Isaac Ross almost handed Earl Rose an intercept try which would have given the Lions the lead early in the second half and even McCaw made a hash of a quick throw-in that went haywire.
They were just a few of the errors.
Although the Crusaders led only 22-16 at halftime, it would be churlish to overlook some of the bright spots in that first spell. Right wing Sean Maitland pumped on the gas to score a fine try as he stepped around and through some poor defence and flanker Jonathan Poff completed a 55-metre movement when he backed himself to charge through several weak tackles.
In between times, though, it was ugly.
Referee Garratt Williamson was not afraid to dish out penalties for breakdown offences and Lions hooker Hannes Franklin exposed the Crusaders' forwards for not committing numbers to a defensive breakdown when he stepped through the bodies to score.
Next weekend the Crusaders have the bye.