Monday, April 30, 2012

Robbie Fruean stars in McCaw's comeback CHRIS BARCLAY 29/04/2012

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw made a seamless return to Super 15 rugby as the Crusaders continued to gather momentum by extending their winning sequence over the NSW Waratahs to double digits with a tense 37-33 win at Allianz Stadium today.
McCaw, playing his first game since hoisting the William Webb Ellis trophy at Eden Park last October replaced George Whitelock in the 56thminute, moments after bruising centre Robbie secured the four-try bonus point with his double.
The Crusaders conceded a late try to replacement halfback Sarel Pretorius to set up a dramatic final five minutes but the seven-time champions held their composure with a key lineout steal and ruck turnover.
They remain sixth on the competition ladder on 33 points, one adrift of the Highlanders, after their third straight victory – and 10th in a row against the Waratahs.
The Sydney siders last beat the New Zealanders at Christchurch in the opening round of the 2004 Super 12 and the wait was destined to continue once Robbie Fruean established an impregnable buffer in the 55th minute of an entertaining clash.
It was the Crusaders eighth consecutive regular season victory again the Waratahs – the hoodoo also includes the 2005 and 2008 title deciders.
The eighth-placed Australians started strongly but a crippling error count, Fruean’s power and another influential performance by All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read combined to spike their two-match winning streak.
Atieli Pakalani, who scored on his Super rugby debut against the Crusaders during the emotional post-earthquake encounter in Nelson last March, had more cause for celebration in his first appearance of 2012 when a defensive lapse by Fruean enabled him to cross in the 11th minute.
Berrick Barnes, who predictably started at pivot despite struggling with the flu earlier in the week, put Adam Ashley-Cooper outside the centre after the Crusaders botched a lineout 40-metres from their line and the Wallabies utility coolly drew Israel Dagg to give the right wing a clear run to the corner.
Brendan McKibbin nailed the angled conversion but Fruean duly made amends six minutes later when the first of two irrepressible first half bursts translated to seven-pointers.
An intricate back move and line ball from halfback Andy Ellis set up the unstoppable Fruean on course for the posts and seven minutes before the break a perfect Dagg pass enabled him to spilt Tom Carter and Pakalani down the left hand touchline.
Barnes bravely slowed his progress 5m out but Fruean flicked the ball to Zac Guildford who touched down with ease.
Tom Taylor added the extras but McKibbin narrowed the margin to 14-13 at halftime when Matt Todd was penalised at a ruck 10m out.
Taylor restored the four-point buffer a minute after the restart but the Waratahs made the most of their first incision deep into Crusaders territory when No.8 Wycliff Palu detached from a rolling maul surged over from close range after the home side turned down a kickable penalty.
From that point the Crusaders assumed control of the round 10 encounter through tries to Adam Whitelock – his first of the season – and Fruean’s second.
A skip and sideways movement from Dagg caused enough confusion in the Waratahs defensive alignment to allow Whitelock to power through the double tackle of Barnes and Tom Kingston in the 49th minute.
Fruean then terrorised Carter for a second time six minutes later, brushing aside his weak tackle attempt inches from the sideline to narrow the angle for Taylor with a relaxed cruise to the line.
The Crusaders most dangerous back handled twice in the movement, picking up a low Read pass before Dagg and Guildford again combined to exploit Pakalani’s flank.
McCaw, back in action after recovering from a chronic foot injury, conceded a ruck penalty for McKibbin to narrow the gap to eight points but the Waratahs again proved susceptible from the restart to provide Taylor with his third penalty of a 17-point haul.
Pretorius created some anxiety for the Crusaders when he scooted over from an attacking scrum in the 74th minute but the Waratahs were unable to engineer a match-winning play.
The Crusaders next host reigning champions Queensland in a repeat of last year’s final on Sunday while the Waratahs play the Brumbies, the Australian conference leaders, in Canberra the night before.
Crusaders 37 (Robbie Fruean 2, Zac Guildford, Adam Whitelock tries; Tom Taylor 3 pen 4 con)
NSW Waratahs 33 (Atieli Pakalani, Wycliff Palu, Sarel Pretorius tries; Brendan McKibbin 4 pen 2 con; Berrick Barnes con)

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