By RICHARD KNOWLER - The Press
The first 55 minutes of last night's 35-6 win over the Sharks at AMI Stadium wouldn't have filled too many highlights reels, but when the Crusaders finally cranked up the heat they were smoking.
Four tries, two to left wing Zac Guildford, secured the Crusaders five competition points and left the Sharks contemplating their third consecutive defeat and title hopes that have already taken a fearful battering.
This Crusaders performance was light years away from the previous weekend's meek effort against the Queensland Reds, a shocker in which they were caned 41-20. Last night they were more hungry in the tackle, a facet where they were eager to smash their opponents back over the advantage line, and were smarter at the breakdowns by committing less numbers so they could add more bodies into the defensive line.
From the get-go it was veteran lock Brad Thorn who showed the Crusaders meant business when in the second minute he flipped Sharks No8 Ryan Kankowski onto his back. He was penalised by referee Chris Pollock for his handiwork, but Thorn had sent out the message: the Crusaders would not be a pushover and he roared through a massive workload.
He was not alone, either.
Thomas Waldrom, a bloke destined for English club Leicester following his Super 14 duties, also churned through a mountain of graft.
His new coach Richard Cockerill, the same bloke who infamously traded blows and insults with Norm Hewitt in a late night stoush after England played the All Blacks in Dunedin in 1998, this week described his new signing as "six foot tall and 17 stone and looks like an overweight shot putter" and, believe it or not, he meant that as a compliment.
Cockerill, who was talking up Waldrom's fitness levels to the Tigers fans, would not have been disappointed by his effort, with the No8 eager to clatter into tacklers with the ball and showing an edge in defence.
Although Sharks halfback Rory Kockett knocked over a 51m penalty in the second minute, it was the Crusaders who drew first blood with the ball in hand when left wing Zac Guildford crossed for the first of his two tries.
For the 18,651-strong crowd it was to be the only five-pointer they would see in the first half but at least it was memorable: a menacing tackle by Ben Franks, who was replaced with an injured knee late in the first half, resulted in the ball being jolted free near halfway and George Whitelock scooped up the nut to start a movement that ended in Guildford taking an inside ball from Jared Payne.
The final straw for the Sharks came with 12 minutes left when replacement back Rian Swanepoel tossed a reckless pass and Guildford poached it to put his side ahead 18-6 with the kick to come.
Although Waldrom looked in some discomfort as he limped from the field in the final minutes, there was good news in that flanker Richie McCaw was back in action after joining the play in the second half and should start against the Blues next week.
Crusaders 35 (Zac Guildford 2, Adam Whitelock, Quentin MacDonald tries; Dan Carter 3 pen, 3 conv) Sharks 6 (Rory Kockett 2 pen).