Thursday, April 19, 2012

Crusaders coming under All Blacks microscope RICHARD KNOWLER 16/04/2012

OPINION: Steve Hansen will officially start interrogating some prospective All Blacks over the next few days.
In a routine established under Sir Graham Henry, new head coach Hansen will meet those Crusaders who could have a shot of making his squad for the three-test series against Ireland in June.
During Henry's reign these meetings were designed to offer players feedback and maybe drop a few hints on the style they hope to employ during the international window. Some egos will be stroked, others bruised.
Given the way they performed in their 31-24 win over the Stormers, several Crusaders might now walk into their meetings with backs a little straighter and gaze fixed high.
No-one, least of all the All Blacks coach, should underestimate that Crusaders performance.
Undoubtedly, the star of the show was kicking machine Tom Taylor, but his support cast was in sublime form – especially his forward pack.
Following their torpor earlier in the season the Crusaders' eight exploded against the massive Stormers as they clamped on their helmets, switched on their lamps and hammered away at the South Africans for 80 minutes.
If Hansen is to be without captain Richie McCaw for the Irish series, a reality if he suffers a setback from his foot injury, No8 Kieran Read looms as the logical successor.
He probably doesn't yet possess McCaw's leadership skills, but his form in recent weeks has spiked markedly and team-mates thrive on watching their boss being among the first to grapple with their enemies before rising for the next scrap.
Although outscored two-tries-to-one by a tenacious side more renowned for their defensive resolve, the Crusaders deserved this victory. They showed discipline in sticking to their game plan, didn't get sucked into daft chip kicks or ill-advised counter-attacks and stayed as the Stormers edged their way back to trail 22-21 inside the final quarter.
It was little wonder the forwards appreciated Taylor, Dan Carter and Israel Dagg hoofing missiles over their heads. It allowed them to keep pressuring the Stormers inside their own half and seeing some dividend for their toil.
There were some out-of-your mind decisions from referee Chris Pollock. The yellow cards to Wyatt Crockett and Rynhardt Elstadt were unwarranted, the lead-up to Bryan Habana's try involved a forward fumble and some of the breakdown decisions were headache material.
Crockett is one who should relish his meeting with Hansen. Unlucky to miss World Cup selection last year he will be wondering if rival Tony Woodcock can hang on for another season, while Matt Todd will be seeking McCaw's No7 jersey if he fails in his rehab race.

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