July 22, 2014 Leave a comment
Losing to the Sharks in pool play was so unlike the Crusaders.
At home and with a man advantage after Jean Deysel was sent off early, the Crusaders rarely got out of third gear and certainly did not engage their rugby brains.
They failed to press through the middle and then spread the ball wide while the Sharks showed rare resolve to collect their first win in Christchurch.
You wanted to rub your eyes. It was a bit surreal, it was not the rugby order we had come to expect from those who inhabit the red and black jerseys as disturbingly, they played without their usual smarts.
They were without key men Kieran Read, Andy Ellis, Daniel Carter and Israel Dagg who will all play in Saturday’s semifinal but their absence did not excuse the brain fades.
Richie McCaw played that night and even he was unable to alter the side’s mindset or tactics. He is training after time out with a cracked rib and is tipped to be the one change, replacing Jordan Taufua on the blindside, leaving Matt Todd to roam wider.
What is certain about the Crusaders is that they will bring more lineout and scrum solidity than the Highlanders were able to muster in Durban. They were dealt to in scrums and lineout drives and conceded three tries in those areas of the game.
They tried to keep the ball alive in a tactic to negate the Sharks’ power in rucks and mauls and reduce the time they had to reset their defensive lines. That free-wheeling style drew great dividends with Kane Hames’ try one of the best all season.
Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett thought it would be much harder for the Sharks to impose their plans on the Crusaders in the semifinal.
“My concern going into the semi-finals is that the Crusaders’ forwards will match the Sharks’ as they have six or seven All Blacks,” he told a South African website.
“They won’t concede a lot of scrum penalties. The Sharks’ pattern of play — a good scrum and lineout and a strong kicking game — won’t be as easy to impose on the Crusaders as it was on the Highlanders.
“The semi-final will be in Christchurch and while the referee will be neutral, he will favour the home side with the 50-50 calls. That will make playing without the ball risky [for the Sharks]. The Crusaders’ forwards are as good as the Sharks’ and they also have outstanding backs who will create opportunities.”
One of those backs will be Carter who has returned to play second five eighths where he offers tactical direction to Colin Slade, brings up the defensive line and is also used as an alternate receiver. He is the main goal-kicker and with Slade, offers left and right foot tactical kicking strategies for the Crusaders.
The variation has grown with Ryan Crotty showing out strongly at centre while Nemani Nadolo has been destructive on the left wing once he got into the team rhythm.
Chuck in Israel Dagg who has recovered from the thigh strain which affected his All Black performance in June and the Crusaders have a much better balance about their group as they attempt to make the finals for the second time in coach Todd Blackadder’s tenure.
by Wynne Gray