Sunday, April 01, 2012

Crusaders fight back in second half, beat Lions

It was ugly but at least the Crusaders ground out an unconvincing 23-13 win over the Lions at Ellis Park this morning.
A try in each half to wings Zac Guildford and Sean Maitland, with Tom Taylor topping-up the score with his right boot, was enough to see the Crusaders secure a win - even if they were disappointed with the way they attained it.
Having beaten the Cheetahs in Christchurch last weekend the Crusaders were forced to make the long journey to South Africa and as the Lions lay in wait they hoped the visitors would struggle at altitude.
Instead it was the Crusaders who finished strongest as they dominated much of the second spell and denied the Lions access to their half.
Having trailed 13-10 at halftime the Crusaders made the perfect start after the halftime bell when right wing Maitland latched onto a well-weighted grubber kick from fullback Israel Dagg.
Mistakes applied the brakes on the Crusaders hopes of making a fast start to the match.
Although Lions skipper Josh Strauss, who was in some pain after copping a pain in the back from Matt Todd, fumbled the opening kick-off to give his opponents a scrum inside his red zone, the tourists were unable to compound his misery.
Centre Robbie Fruean dashed down the short side as he sucked in a pass by Sean Maitland, who knocked out Lions fullback James Kamana in the process, but the transfer was ruled forward.
Kamana's night was over - he was wheeled off the park on a trolley - and the sight of their team-mate in a neck brace appeared to galvanise the Lions.
Their enthusiasm was fuelled by the Crusaders' passive defence and a raft of errors and when Butch James kicked a penalty in the 18th minute it finally gave the Lions a dividend for their efforts.
Crusaders second five-eighth Taylor and James traded penalties in the following minutes before Guildford skipped across for his try.
First-five-Dan Carter, who lasted around 60 minutes before being replaced by Ryan Crotty, was like a slow burning fuse in the opening spell, doing little more than flicking the ball wide to his outsides or being another link in the defensive chain whenever the Lions ball carriers straightened-up and ran down his channel.
Yet it was Carter's class, a neat pass to Guildford, which put the roaming left wing across for his try in the 31stminute and finally added some life into the Crusaders' sleepy attack.
Having received the ball down the right-hand side Carter dummied and foxed two defenders into shifting their weight the wrong way before creating enough space on his inside to give Guildford a free run.
Halfback Andy Ellis used his strength to save a try when he prevented lock Franco van der Merwe from placing the ball over the line, although there was no denying the Lions when tighthead prop Patric Cilliers plundered a five-pointer following a series of pick-and-goes.
Ellis and Guildford were among the best of the Crusaders backs, while lock Sam Whitelock contested opponents' lineouts with some vigour and openside flanker Matt Todd was a nuisance at the breakdowns.
Lions' flanker and captain Strauss and left wing Andries Coetzee had busy nights and Butch James' reliable kicking kept them in touch although he was unable to earn a bonus point when he missed a penalty after the hooter.
It was far from pretty or convincing but the Crusaders will take it. RICHARD KNOWLER IN JOHANNESBURG 01/04/2012

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