Friday, June 01, 2012

Crusaders thump Highlanders in Christchurch RICHARD KNOWLER 01/06/2012

Forget mate against mate, this 51-18 win was like watching men against boys.
That is no cheap shot at the Highlanders endeavours last night but more a reflection of the rampaging Crusaders dominant form as they raced in seven tries to two during a ruthless performance at AMI Stadium.
An  electric Crusaders' backline swept aside any lingering doubts about their potency and a bold strategy to pouch their kicking game sent a profound message to their Super opponents they are deadly serious about collecting another title.
Set pieces were sound, they were prepared to dent their body armour around the rucks and repeatedly exploited holes in the Highlanders defensive screen which proved surprisingly easy to penetrate.
While ably directed around the park by the inside back pairing of Andy Ellis and Dan Carter, it was the efforts of the forwards that rocked the southern men.
Usual suspects such as Richie McCaw and Kieran Read provoked their team-mates into lifting their intensity, while replacement hooker Quentin MacDonald provided a contribution that slipped into the bonus category.
MacDonald's ball running was outstanding, the man of the match proving to have the uncanny knack of providing vital passes at crucial moments.
Minor scuffles in the opening and closing minutes reinforced the feeling - McCaw took exception to Jarrad Hoeata's clumsy cleanout in the first quarter - but it was the clinical finishing of the Crusaders and their dominance of territory that marked their superiority.
The Crusaders unleashed their first uppercut inside the third minute as blindside flanker George Whitelock launched from a ruck for the opening try.
Carter's left boot opened the gap to 10 points and despite the lung-burning cold the 23,600-strong crowd felt a warm glow in their bellies.
If they anticipated an anxiety-free night, however, they didn't account for trigger-happy referee Steve Walsh.
Sydney-based Kiwi Walsh promptly began lashing the Crusaders with a string of breakdown penalties, capping off the flurry of activity by yellow carding blindside flanker Whitelock.
Walsh's hot hand proved the lightning rod that activated the Highlanders attack; midfielder Tamati Ellison hit the line at speed, shunted off Ryan Crotty and skipped past Ben Franks to score.
And Walsh was far from finished.
The pallor of Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw's face turned a whiter shade when he watched Walsh fumble for another card when Kieran Read illegally blasted through a ruck.
Somehow McCaw negotiated a reprieve for Read but there was no such fortune for Highlanders flanker James Haskell who he was marched to the sin bin as Whitelock returned.
Once again the pendulum of fortune swung the Crusaders' way and Carter and Zac Guildford were the main instigators.
Within minutes of Haskell settling in the naughty nest Carter popped through a magical grubber kick for MacDonald to collect and it sparked the beginning of the end for the Highlanders.
The rake, who had replaced Corey Flynn (rib problem) in the third minute, slipped a pass to Guildford and his searing long-range run left Kurt Baker in his wake.
Guildford grabbed his next five-pointer when Carter peeled off another worm-burner closer to the line and Crotty nailed the bonus point in a movement that began when Robbie Fruean brushed aside Josh Bekhuis inside his own quarter.
Three tries following for the Crusaders in the second spell and the Highlanders reply was a sole intercept try to Hosea Gear.

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