Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crusaders must get mojo back after losses  RICHARD KNOWLER 12/03/2012

OPINION: At least Todd Blackadder won't feel as if he is being nudged towards a bullet-pocked wall.
In contrast to Pat Lam, who a few days ago was one loss away from becoming Super Rugby's walking corpse, Blackadder has avoided the intense scrutiny that stalled for the Blues boss only when his men beat the Bulls in Pretoria yesterday.
Until the win at Loftus Versfeld, Lam copped it from all corners. The radicals were demanding his resignation and reclusive chief executive Andy Dalton even poked his head out of his cave to vent his displeasure.
That he is avoiding that sort of heat is probably of little comfort to Blackadder as he sits in his Rugby Park office and reflects on his team's 1-2 record. From three matches they have just six competition points and are placed 10th.
Only the Blues, who lost their opening matches to the Crusaders and Chiefs, sit behind them in the New Zealand conference.
After the 24-19 loss to the Chiefs in Napier on Friday night, Blackadder expressed the need for a calm, measured response to rectify the damage.
Unlike the Blues, who appeared indifferent in the first half of their loss to the Chiefs in the second round and brought an avalanche of criticism crashing into their laps, the Crusaders have at least rattled off their share of shots.
And that has bought enough time to prevent their interrogators sliding bamboo slivers under their fingernails in the hunt for answers.
The Crusaders might even be leading the competition if they hadn't panicked in the bizarre "wrong clock" match against the Highlanders or referee Garratt Williamson had awarded a try to Andy Ellis against the Chiefs.
That is not to say they deserve to be topping the log. Because they don't.
Individual errors are killing the Crusaders' momentum. Traditionally they are a team that tortures opponents who kick the ball down their throats, offer mismatches in defence or cannot produce ball runners with enough X-factor to crack their line. That is not happening.
Even though the conditions were slippery in Napier it was difficult to believe their error rate.
Zac Guildford appeared to be trying too hard and making simple mistakes because of it, and Robbie Fruean needs to look more for his support.
The forwards showed more intent at the breakdowns than in Dunedin a week earlier, the lineout performed and, once they had sorted it out, the scrum proved solid.
There were bright moments, too.
Apart from his botched 22m kickoff, which led to the crucial try to Sona Taumalolo, Andy Ellis made some snappy breaks and the try to Fruean, which involved a clever kick by Guildford and a run by Kieran Read, proved the Crusaders have the sting to hurt teams.
It is early days. Thirteen rounds remain.
On March 24 they will meet the Cheetahs at the new Christchurch Stadium, putting an end to their travelling days. Blackadder may also encourage them to view it as a new beginning.

No comments: