Sunday, March 25, 2012

Crusaders christen new home with win


Some old-school composure helped the Crusaders launch a new era with an emotional 28-21 victory over the Cheetahs in their debut outing at Christchurch Stadium tonight.
Super Rugby returned to the city for the first time since May 2010 because of last year's earthquake damage. And some normality returned to the Crusaders who stopped a two-match losing streak to get their struggling campaign back on track.
They took their time to shake off those early season woes and the rust that came with last week's bye.
But with the game tied up at 21-all with just 10 minutes left and the Cheetahs full of running, the Crusaders discovered the sort of mental dominance that has highlighted their dominance over the years.
They held their nerve despite having Andy Ellis and Tom Taylor being denied over the try-line to eventually get Israel Dagg clear for the match-winner.
Dagg looked far more effective in his return to the fullback's jersey tonight.
And there was more pleasure for the Crusaders, with Dan Carter making his long-awaited return to action since a groin injury ended his World Cup last October.
Carter was introduced at halftime to take command at No 10 and there was a lift in fluidity from the Crusaders' attack.
The Cheetahs contributed plenty to an entertaining match, including two superb tries, but they had to settle for just a bonus point in defeat.
The Crusaders had a monster scrum from the outset but that counted for nothing at the end with uncontested scrums being enforced because of Cheetahs injuries. So the red and blacks had to come up with other ways to make their mark and they did that by providing the more direct approach up front demanded by coach Todd Blackadder at halftime. Combined with the ever-present danger of their outside backs, it eventually provided the winning formula, much to the delight of a sold out stadium.
The Crusaders now head off to South Africa to confront the Lions and Bulls.
They'll need to show more than they did tonight but they head away with some much-needed impetus.
It was a nervous start by the Crusaders though. Two Tom Taylor penalties edged them in front but it was largely a frustrating first half for the Crusaders as they failed to capitalise on their advantages in territory and possession.
They eventually worked a try after 36 minutes off a lineout win and wing Sean Maitland had the honour of the first touchdown on the new ground. Good build-up work from Zac Guildford, Robbie Fruean and Dagg freed up Maitland to display his finishing skills for an 11-3 lead at the break.
Carter's arrival after halftime, combined with some good front foot ball, provided enough space for Fruean to scamper away for a classy try.
But that was out-done by the Cheetahs who produced a stunning counterattacking try with first five Johan Goosen finishing off the length-of-the-field effort.
His second penalty soon after had the Cheetahs right back in the mix.
Taylor wiped that out with a goal of his own, but the Cheetahs kept clawing away and got reward for their attack with a patient build-up finished by centre Robert Ebersohn. Goosen's conversion and another penalty suddenly had the game locked at 21-all with 10 minutes left.
Ellis and Taylor were held up over the line as Crusaders surged back looking for the match-winner. That eventually fell to Dagg who was given more than enough room out to the right to take the TMO out of the adjudicating.
The Crusaders will have an ongoing concern with a white card issued for a tackle made by Guildford.
Crusaders 28: Tries: Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Israel Dagg; Conversions: Tom Taylor (2); Penalties: Taylor (3)
Cheetahs 21: Tries: Johan Goosen, Sias Ebersohn; Conversion: Goosen; Penalties: Goosen (3)
Halftime: 11-3 to Crusaders 

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