Sunday, March 25, 2012

Patchy win for Crusaders at new home  RICHARD KNOWLER 26/03/2012

Todd Blackadder's post-match disposition didn't reflect the festival atmosphere.
As the revelling fans – many still fluttering the 15,000 flags issued before kickoff – drifted out of the Crusaders' new citadel, a straight-faced Blackadder was in a more reflective mood as he contemplated the 28-21 victory over the Cheetahs.
Any win is worth celebrating, and the Crusaders could later be heard christening their new changing sheds with great gusto, but Blackadder was pragmatic enough to concede this team are still a work in progress.
There can be no criticising their application, especially the forwards, who appeared intent on smearing their opponents into the AMI Stadium turf at scrum time (when contested) and piled enthusiastically into rucks. However, the errors, many of them fundamental, remain a frustration.
Blackadder also didn't need to say what many were thinking: that the Crusaders could have lost.
Given the emotion of the occasion it would have been a cruel blow, yet they were fortunate not to be decapitated by the most entertaining team in Africa.
While the switch to uncontested scrums released the tourniquet for the Cheetahs, the Crusaders' reluctance to switch from their lateral backline attack to a more direct approach around the ruck did them few favours.
No doubt wary of kicking to the dangerous South African backline, led by rangy fullback Hennie Daniller and elusive centre Robert Ebersohn, the Crusaders eschewed searching for territory.
With the ball in hand, however, they made little progress against the well-organised pincer defence out wide.
Blackadder indicated he wanted the game plan tightened after the halftime bell, but even then it was too loose and frenetic, when more runners up the fat man's track could have reduced the margin for error and contracted their opponents' defensive screen.
Yet it is of some comfort that these problems are not major issues. It is not as if the players' skills have abandoned them – the sizzling set-piece try to Sean Maitland which involved Zac Guildford and Israel Dagg darting into the backline off a lineout proves that – but the blunders continue to create headaches. There are still too many wayward passes, handling lapses and minor brain explosions.
The performance of halfback Andy Ellis shone like a beacon. Unlike All Blacks team-mate Piri Weepu, who inexplicably kicked downfield and then missed the tackle on Beauden Barrett in the Blues' loss to the Hurricanes on Friday night, Ellis was composed and remains one of the best decision-makers in the country.
Rookie Tom Taylor did enough to confirm he can start if Dan Carter is again on the bench against the Lions in Jo'burg next weekend; Matt Todd remains one of the more accurate defenders at No7 in this country; and the Franks brothers cranked out honest performances up front.
The Crusaders leave Sydney for South Africa this morning knowing the Lions will pose a tricky assignment at Ellis Park. Beset by injury problems with 11 players unavailable, the Lions were expected to be walloped by the Stormers yesterday morning. Instead the star-laden Stormers required two late penalties by Joe Pietersen to eke out a 24-19 win.

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