http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/super-rugby/6869068/Crusaders-avenge-Super-final-loss-to-Reds RICHARD KNOWLER 07/05/2012
Ugly, messy, sloppy – take your pick.
It was a win, and four Super competition points were banked but the Crusaders got lucky when they beat the Reds 15-11 at AMI Stadium in Christchurch last night.
Have a look at it this way; whistle-happy referee Bryce Lawrence favoured the Crusaders 16-7 in the penalty count, the Reds scored the only try and if calm Tom Taylor didn't prove he possesses the temperament of a brain surgeon by slotting five of his six penalties, this result would have been different.
It was no wonder the windows of the Crusaders coach's box were steamed up.
As he sat there writing his post-match notes it was difficult to sight Todd Blackadder behind the misty glass. No doubt his papers highlighted a number of areas that require fixing before meeting the Rebels and that list is likely to be considerable in size.
It could include: treasuring possession in the tackle, not firing rockets when a simple spiral pass would suffice, being more prepared for a gritty scrap at the breakdowns and not making loopy spur-of-the-moment decisions.
A sports shrink could state that after impressive victories over the Waratahs, Hurricanes (the highlight so far this season) and Stormers this was a timely reminder the Crusaders cannot get too carried away with themselves.
Blackadder wasn't prepared to put too much spin on the poor result and, not surprisingly, was measured in his post-match analysis.
"I try to look at it from what I would say if we had lost because I think if we approach it from that angle we will take some good lessons out of it," he said.
"I'm delighted with the win but we are just disappointed [with the performance] I would suggest."
The Crusaders had reason to feel miffed about several of Lawrence's decisions. After several scrum resets in the second half, when hot on attack, he determined the Reds were not at fault when the set piece screwed wildly and a minute later he yellow-carded Wyatt Crockett for a petty tackle offence.
In what was maybe an omen of things to follow, lock Tom Donnelly was forced out at late notice with a back complaint. That required Sam Whitelock to be drafted in – not a bad replacement to be fair – and Ross Kennedy took the bench.
But things started badly when halfback Andy Ellis unwittingly contributed to the sole try. Reds centre Anthony Faingaa jolted the ball from Ellis' grasp after Mike Harris' kickoff, the scrum was won, the Queensland forwards surged towards the blindside and rake James Hanson emerged from the in-goal pile-up a happy man.
Ironically, for a match booked in for a rare afternoon timeslot expected to produce a bundle of tries, the remaining 78 minutes produced none.
Periodically, the Crusaders were surprised by the Reds' intensity in the rucks, where openside flanker Liam Gill, 19, contributed to putting pressure on the ball. No8 Scott Higginbotham also made precious metres with his ball running and halfback Will Genia kicked cleverly and worked the blindside well.
The Crusaders battled gamely, but even one of their best in recent weeks, the blockbusting No8 and skipper Kieran Read, was not immune to spilling the nut.
Blindside flanker George Whitelock was typically no-nonsense in the tight exchanges and lock Luke Romano had one of his best performances of the season.
One of the biggest cheers of the night for the Crusaders came on the stroke of halftime when their defensive scrum demolished their opponents and earned a penalty. It was a rare highlight on a largely forgettable night.