Fruean on fire as Crusaders win in shootout over Tahs

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The Crusaders' Robbie Fruean (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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It was a simple case of Crusader centre Robert Fruean, sporting a new mohawk haircut, scalping the Waratahs on their own hunting ground yesterday.

In an electric man-of-the-match performance that smacked of an All Black debut season, Fruean scored twice and set up a third for winger Zac Guildford in the 37-33 win at Sydney Football Stadium.

The first was taking a high pass on the Waratahs 10-metre line, bursting through four close defenders without a hand on him and outsprinting three more to the white line.

The second was just as magnificent. Fruean handled twice and had just millimetres to move on the touchline.

But he left Waratahs centre Tom Carter grasping at air and again outpaced the defence.

In between he again left Carter in a sprint down the left touchline before transferring inside to Guilford to touch down. All up, Fruean travelled a game-high 141 metres during his bursts.

Worth repeating. Electrifying.

To the Waratahs credit, they never waved the white flag which the 30,663 home crowd, the best this year, really appreciated.

To be within four points after 80 minutes was no mean feat when the Waratahs were over-run by a far better side that has tournament form of reaching the last decade of Super play-offs, and winning seven, five of them under current Wallaby coach Robbie Deans.

The Waratahs haven’t won one, and have been beaten in two finals by the Crusaders in 2005 and 2008.

It would be safe to say any team that beats the Crusaders in the upcoming play-offs will be the 2012 champions.

And the Crusaders will only get better, now World Cup winning skipper Richie McCaw is back on duty for the first time since that historic win.

The three-times IRB International Player-of-the-Year came on in the 56th minute, and while classy number eight Kieran Read, one of the best in the world in his position, has done a top job at the helm in McCaw’s absence, the Crusaders stand taller when McCaw’s calling the shots.

The other Crusader bonus is new fly-half Tom Taylor. Not only has he pushed champion No 10 Dan Carter to inside-centre, but has taken over the goal-kicking from international rugby’s record-holder with 1250 points just ahead of England’s Jonny Wilkinson with 1246.

And Taylor has yet to make his All Black debut. So far this Super season, Taylor has kicked 34 goals from 40 attempts. for an excellent 85 percent success rate, watched by an applauding Carter.

That was the only area where the Waratahs constantly competed. Their goal-kicker Brendan McKibbin landed six from six yesterday to keep the home side in touch, giving him 23 from 25 this season, for a whopping 92 percent.

But as a team, there are only flashes of Waratah brilliance and 80 minutes is a long time to paper the cracks.

Magnified by the injury loss of Drew Mitchell, Lachie Turner, Bernard Foley, Dan Vickerman, Pat McCutcheon, Paddy Ryan, Damien Fitzpatrick, and Chris Alcock, with Rob Horne suspended.

No franchise can afford such devastation, and it’s hard to see the Waratahs figuring at the business end of this tournament, leaving the Australian Conference battle between the Brumbies, and the Reds.

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