March 19, 2011
Highlanders 13 Crusaders 44
Lucky London. The expats and curious Poms who will fill Twickenham next week for Super rugby’s first neutral game will get the privilege of viewing a Crusaders side hitting some ominous form. They were certainly too good for the jet-lagged Highlanders at Carisbrook last night.
The Crusaders, after a strangely muddling first-half performance, flicked a switch for the second 40 and left the Highlanders in their dust for a final score of 44-13.
It was a disappointing, though rather predictable, outcome for the 20,700 fans who turned up in numbers not seen in this neck of the woods for the last half-dozen years.
The Crusaders had been lucky to eke out a 13-6 lead by the break, but in the second half they added five tries to Robbie Fruean’s first-half touchdown to run away with their third straight bonus-point victory that shoots them to the top of the competitive Kiwi conference. They are building up a nice head of steam as they get set to make that long trip to London to meet the Sharks.
“I felt we built a lot of pressure,” said Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder. “That was an outstanding second half. The guys probably did three things really well: the first was discipline, the other was holding on to the ball and the third was being a lot more direct and patient.”
The likes of Wyatt Crockett, Chris Jack, Kahn Fotuali’i and Zac Guildford coming off the bench also provided real impetus. It was a typically efficient Crusaders performance, at least in the second 40. They dominated the scrum hit – getting one try directly from a monster effort – won turnovers with regular frequency and that star-studded back line finally started holding on to the ball and finding gaps. Matt Todd and Kieran Read also led a rampaging effort in the loose.
Sonny Bill Williams and Fruean had strong matches, too. Fruean ran hard for the whole 80 and Williams came into his own in the second spell. And, yes, he was even starting to take on that line as well.
“Every week we seek improvements,” said Blackadder of his No.12. “When Sonny started two weeks ago he was quite deep but I think he’s getting more and more to the line every time. I thought he was outstanding tonight, not just with his ball-running and offloading, but in all the little things.
“He’s really adapted to rugby quickly, and shows what a class player he is.”
It came as no surprise to anyone that standout centre Fruean scored the only try of the first period, the big centre carving through in the 10th minute when he just grazed the line (or so the third match official thought) after an angled run to the line.
The Highlanders dug in after that and had plenty of chances via referee Marius Jonker’s raised arm, but 36-year-old Tony Brown was only able to slot two of his six first-half penalty attempts. On the other side of the coin, Dan Carter drilled three of his five shots to give the Crusaders a lead they were worth for their weight of possession alone.
Those misses cost the Highlanders dearly, coach Jamie Joseph said. “We put ourselves under pressure,” he said. “When you play a team like the Crusaders, when you get opportunities you’ve got to take them, because they don’t come twice. And we never took ours. We had chances to get a lead and create that vibe to keep kicking on and didn’t take them.”
CRUSADERS 44 (Israel Dagg 2, Wyatt Crockett, Kahn Fotuali'i, Robert Fruean, Kieran Read tries Daniel Carter 3, Matthew Berquist cons Carter 2 pens Andrew Ellis drop goal)
HIGHLANDERS 13 (Adam Thomson try Robbie Robinson con Tony Brown 2 pens) at Carisbrook Stadium.
Referee: Marius Jonker.