The Crusaders defeat themselves in 2012
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The Crusaders defeated the Crusaders in an epic semi final against the Chiefs in Hamilton last night.
It was a game that reflected the mood of the season for both sides. The Crusaders were running on ethanol, the Chiefs on jet fuel.
The men from Hamilton have developed a remarkably rounded team whose rise in 2012 has been driven by an outstanding forward pack and a backline pinned together by competition dazzlers Cruden, Williams and Robinson.
The more fancied Crusaders petered and fizzed in a stop-start campaign that lasted eighteen rounds and ended in appropriate fashion. A lack of fluency has dogged the Cantabrians since they last won a Super Rugby title in 2008.
From the outset the home team dominated their southern rivals with vicious rush defence and a steely rudder in five-eight Cruden, whose game was so electric it made Carter’s no-fuss calm appear almost…lethargic?
The Chiefs produced plenty of niggle, much of it directed at McCaw which is a theme presenting itself in all the big games these days; notably the rarities where McCaw ends up on the wrong side of winning. It had the effect of ruffling up the Crusaders who were guilty of dropped ball, passes that resembled up-and-unders, and a tackle count on their own players that might confuse the statisticians. A total lack of composure with the ball in hand.
Despite their form the Crusaders managed to be in the frame right up to the 82nd minute; their greatest strength is they know how to win when they’re playing badly. This time it proved a bridge too far, despite the Chiefs displaying some form of tourette syndrome, seemingly unable to control neurons firing like wayward garden hoses. Ill discipline was a key feature of their game, and most of it resulting in penalties. Luckily for them, Carter’s boot hasn’t been the same since his groin injury and running at under 70% for the season. Normally when his kick is misfiring he compensates with a harder running game, but not last night.
In the final minutes, the red team was three points down and with possession; this is the stuff the Crusaders are made of. And if the world’s greatest number 10 wasn’t having possibly the worst performance of his career he might have had the confidence to go for the killer drop goal and steal an unlikely win. Instead, they camped on their opponent’s 40m line for 20+ phases until they inevitably coughed up the oblong and with it their title chances.
Of course in a 15 man code you need more than one man to defeat a team, and Carter had the support of his teammates as they deconstructed their own game to a tawdry rabble.
The Wallabies would have been watching this with intent. If you manage to beat the Crusaders you’ve just developed your strategy for the Bledisloe Cup. This season the Crusaders were beaten by the Chiefs (twice) the Bulls, Hurricanes and Rebels. With the exception of the Bulls who rely on pressure – which is why they can’t win on the road – all these teams win by disrupting their opponents game plan.
This is why Robbie Deans is the best man for Australian rugby. Kiwi teams are the best at beating Kiwi teams and he’s got the inside word.
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