Thursday, March 08, 2012

Napier result a crossroads for Crusaders RICHARD KNOWLER 09/03/2012

OPINION: Trundling into the bye following a defeat is always painful for players. So you can imagine their moods after consecutive losses.
Win against the Chiefs in Napier tonight, and the Crusaders earn the luxury of unhitching the baggage and enjoying their break. A loss would create much more discomfort.
If the Crusaders stumbled against the Chiefs, it would be their first loss to the northern team in almost two years. And with no match the next weekend, they would be forced to spend the week fretting over things out of their control – like whether Christchurch Stadium will be ready for the match against the Cheetahs on March 24 or if coach Todd Blackadder will erase their names from the team sheet.
Last weekend's 27-24 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin sparked some early season question marks about the Crusaders, mostly about why their forwards went AWOL at the breakdown, how their opponents could slip through their defensive lines so easily and why so many simple errors were made.
A fortnight ago the Chiefs also lost to the Highlanders, but no-one remembers that shocker. Having trounced the Blues in Hamilton last weekend the earlier debacle was happily forgotten, the pressure eased off new coach Dave Rennie and the wolves unleashed on to winless Blues coach Pat Lam.
The theory, when looking at the Chiefs, is that they have more attacking threats than the Highlanders, who cleverly used flanker John Hardie to punch through the midfield from set-plays off lineouts.
Fullback Robbie Robinson and wing Tim Nani-Williams produced blinders in the wet and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, even if his kicking game was poor, shot through gaps and ferreted around the rucks with ease. There is also the task of preventing Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui barging over the advantage line.
Getting field position will be imperative but Crusaders first five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal will need more help from his kick-chasers. Robinson's and Nani-Williams' self-confidence will have soared since their counter-attacks split the Blues and former All Blacks backs coach Wayne Smith will encourage them to punish any sloppy clearances.
It is scrums where the Crusaders should dominate and if Sona Taumalolo's wife goes into labour before kick-off they could earn an unexpected bonus; if the Tongan prop has to scramble for the hospital, Rennie will be forced to dig into a front-row roster already shortened due to injuries.
When the two sides met in Napier last year the Crusaders scrum drilled their opposites into the McLean Park dirt. It will be that sort of determination which is required if the Crusaders are prevent a 1-2 record ahead of the bye.


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