Friday, March 04, 2011

Crusaders punish Waratahs

Crusaders punish Waratahs - official site of the All Blacks - (4/03/2011)

An emotionally charged Crusaders paid tribute to the Pike River Miners and sent the best possible message to earthquake hit Christchurch as they steamrolled the NSW Waratahs 33-18 at Nelson's Trafalgar Park on Friday.

Eleven days after the gut-wrenching deadly quake rocked New Zealand's second-largest city and wearing West Coast jerseys to honour the 29 miners killed last November, the seven-time champion Crusaders shook off early season rust after a first up loss to the Blues and the cancelled game with the Hurricanes.

This was their ninth straight victory over the Sydney slickers. The only disappointment was a failure to grab a second-half bonus point. The blockbusting midfield pairing of second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams and centre Robbie Fruean were to the fore. Fruean, especially, was unstoppable.

His two tries late in the first half almost single handily stole the momentum and the match. Williams made a horror start in his Super Rugby debut, but regained composure and showed star quality. For a side that had dispatched the Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds, the Waratahs dropped their bundle when the pressure was applied, particularly upfront.

They sorely missed Wallabies playmaker Berrick Barnes' direction and accuracy. It's a stretch to say he would have won the game for the visitors, but both sides scored three tries with goal-kicking the difference.

Daniel Halagahu replaced Barnes but had a shocker with the boot, couldn't make a tackle and threw Fruean a crucial gift intercept. Williams first three touches were lamentable – two wobbly passes and a brainless back-door flick under his sticks gifted the Waratahs field position from which impressive hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau superbly offloaded in two tacklers to send second five-eighths Tom Carter in at the corner.

Halagahu missed the conversion and his first penalty. Led by lock Brad Thorn, prop Wyatt Crockett and openside Matt Todd, the Crusaders dominated the breakdown and smashed 'Tahs scrum.

Dan Carter then pinched the initiative with two three-pointers. That was short lived, however, as nippy halfback Luke Burgess started and finished a sharp blindside burst for his side's second try. Left wing Adam Whitelock was badly exposed as a midfielder playing out of position when Burgess turned him inside and out.

Halagahu shanked his third and was stripped of the kicking duties before fullback Kurtley Beale knocked over a 40m penalty for a 13-6 lead. But that was as good as it got for the hottest Australian franchise.

Imposing Fruean echoed those touting him for higher honours when he scored two tries in the blink of an eye, turning the match on its head. Halagahu's nightmare only got worse as he gifted twirling Fruean a one-handed runaway.

Williams made amends by holding up a ball that allowed his midfield partner to bulldoze over for a second. Carter converted both and punished an infringement on half-time for a 26-13 advantage.

The interval did little to damper Fruean's potency as he shredded defenders to ignite the Crusaders' attack. Williams capitalised by sprinting past Halagahu and through a gaping hole to collect his first, probably of many, Super Rugby try.

Carter made no mistake. Waratahs replacement wing Afa Pakalani, from Wellington, scored a consolation try and Beale was no better with his conversion attempt.

Crusaders 33 (Robbie Fruean tries 2, Sonny Bill Williams; Dan Carter con 3, Carter pen 3)
Waratahs 18 (Tom Carter, Luke Burgess, Afa Pakalani tries; Kurtley Beale pen)
HT: 26-13

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