Sunday, April 01, 2012

Crusaders get win but plenty still to work on RICHARD KNOWLER  02/04/2012

OPINION: John Mitchell and Todd Blackadder resembled a pair of undertakers as they delivered their post-match verdicts at Ellis Park yesterday morning.
Mitchell had every reason to be sombre after his side's 23-13 defeat, yet Blackadder's mood was almost as gloomy; usually he offers a quip or a wry smile following a victory but he struggled to discover his sense of humour as he contemplated the two-try-to-one win.
Rather than blame the long flight to South Africa earlier in the week, the switch in time zones or warped body clocks, the Crusaders coach blamed the lacklustre performance on poor execution and a passive attitude.
When they downed the Cheetahs 28-21 in the previous round, a win that ended their two-match losing streak and produced some glimpses of what they are capable of on attack, there was optimism the Crusaders were making their way towards a peak performance.
A couple of neat tries to wings Zac Guildford and Sean Maitland, each aided by some classy touches by Dan Carter and Israel Dagg respectively, proved memorable enough against the Lions but it was the bumbles in between that cause concern.
Their defensive line lacked zip in the first half, the forward pack struggled to hold their own in the loose, passes were botched and a couple of kicks by Andy Ellis and Tom Taylor were charged down and kicked dead.
Ellis redeemed himself with a remarkable tackle on Lions lock Franco van der Merwe when he flipped him over and saved a try and Taylor kicked 13 points, but the Crusaders know they should be better than this.
You have to look back to the Blues win in the opening round to recall their best performance this year and that was achieved by a desperate charge down of Piri Weepu's drop goal attempt by Dagg.
Blackadder wanted to leave Johannesburg with a four-try bonus point, but the lack of continuity ensured that was a longshot. A prime example was when Guildford, who is slowly edging his way back to top form, made a linebreak but Ryan Crotty dropped the ball cold.
Twelve months ago the Crusaders were returning from London where they left the English audience blubbering with excitement when they unleashed a dynamite performance against the Sharks.
Sonny Bill Williams may be gone and Carter is still building confidence following his comeback from injury but the nucleus of that side remains.
Although their scrum was solid, the lineout had the edge and the forwards shaded the Lions in the second half, this year's side are yet to get anywhere near the level of performance they unleashed at Twickenham.
Richie McCaw was injured then and still is now. So his absence can't be the difference.
Attitude can take many forms and perhaps the emotion of last year, when the earthquakes forced them out of Christchurch, always gave the Crusaders an extra reason to perform for themselves and their fans.
Somehow they have to rekindle that mindset ahead of next weekend's match against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
Perhaps a history lesson is important.
The Crusaders have not managed a win in Pretoria since 2008. A win is something to aim for.

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