Thursday, April 19, 2012

Crusaders not pretty but got winning tactic RICHARD KNOWLER 17/04/2012

Anyone squealing to Andy Ellis about the lack of colour in the Crusaders' new-found love for the kick-chase-pressure strategy will have their gaze directed to the Super Rugby points table.
Having stripped much of the attacking intent during their 31-24 win over the Stormers at AMI Stadium last weekend, the Crusaders discovered how powerful a kick-heavy game could be.
It wasn't pretty. There were no sweeping counter-attacks from deep inside their own territory, intricate backline moves around the halfway mark or tricky chip kicks.
Critics might find it boring, supporters reply it is effective.
Halfback Ellis doesn't care: "I love winning. I just love winning," he says.
Having watched the Stormers swamp the Highlanders 21-6 in Dunedin on April 7, the Crusaders decided they needed to simplify things to beat the South Africans.
"It has taken a while to understand the style of game. We watched the Highlanders against the Stormers and they played a lot of footy around their half and if you make a mistake it just kills you," Ellis said.
"You can't afford to be playing in your own half. I think in some ways it is a little bit of a shame but we executed really well against the Stormers and I'm glad we have adapted."
A win over the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday night could see the Crusaders advance to third on the New Zealand conference table. If the Highlanders lose to the Blues they will be second.
The Hurricanes, who have proved a scourge with their ability to unleash long-range counter-attacks, have the best attacking record in the Kiwi conference (225 compared with the Crusaders' 174) but their defence is the worst (195 to the Crusaders' 159).
While mounting raids from turnovers can unstitch back-pedalling defensive screens, Ellis said it was becoming increasingly difficult to punch holes in well-organised defensive screens.
"From turnovers, yep, move it and let's play. But this (game plan) worked against the Stormers. We said we are just not going to play in our own half, it is killing us and it is killing other teams.
"You can't afford to play footy inside your own half and make mistakes. It has taken us this long to realise that but I think we are on the right track now."
Such risk-management, however, could have the potential to sting the Crusaders if they lack four-try bonus points in the run toward the playoffs.
With the firepower the Crusaders have out wide, especially with Zac Guildford and Sean Maitland progressing toward the sharp end of their games, coach Todd Blackadder will be uneasy about the prospect of reducing their attacking threats.
But against the Hurricanes the Crusaders are still likely to lean toward conservatism rather than creativity as they chase their fifth win.
"Last season you might have set up and played one or two phases to get in a good kick – to move their back three around," Ellis said. "Now you can kick from first-phase, kick long, hit them in their 22 and make them make a decision."

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