Force is with the Crusaders

Sometimes you just have to be grateful for a win.

The Crusaders’ 30-7 victory over the Force at AMI Stadium tonight looks comprehensive enough on the scoreboard but in reality it was a game which degenerated as the minutes ticked by.

To take the glass half-full perspective would be to acknowledge the Crusaders, though inaccurate, now find themselves in second place on the Super Rugby log on 41 points behind the Sharks (44).

The late pressure they put on the Force is also reflected in the fact they scored two penalty tries – an unusual scenario in any match at any level.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen would have also whistled a sigh of relief at seeing star No 8 Kieran Read complete the match without showing noticeable ill-effects from the head knock that had ruled him out of all rugby since April 19.

Fullback Israel Dagg suffered a painful blow to his shoulder in the 60th minute and Hansen will be hoping he is fit to face England at Eden Park next weekend.

Read, understandably for someone coming back from concussion, played within himself – but had the crowd bellowing with delight when he made a spectacular break which almost led to a try to Johnny McNicholl – and that reflected his side’s performance for much of the match.

The Crusaders’ desire to keep the Force pinned to the canvas was underlined by their refusal on several occasions to kick for goal.

But concentration lapses kept the door ajar and the Force were only too happy to force it open by mounting repeated attacks in the third spell – a far cry from some of the conservative work in other matches – and were rewarded with a try to right wing Dane Haylett-Petty.

A fine combination tackle by outside backs McNicholl and Dagg denied Nick Cummins minutes later yet it only seemed to galvanise the visitors who were encouraged by the Crusaders’ reluctance to commit defenders to rucks.

Turnovers, breakdown penalties and a series of tit-for-tat kicking duels added to the Crusaders getting bogged down in an arm wrestle.

Left wing Nemani Nadolo was dynamite with the ball early on but was rarely sighted in the second half, playmaker Colin Slade kicked superbly once again and blindside flanker Jordan Taufua was accurate in the lineout and with his ball carries.

In the opening half it seemed that the more the mercury sank the more the Crusaders attempted to apply the flame to the Force players’ bellies by keeping the ball alive with pop balls and wraparound passes in the tackle.

The joie de vivre in their game was a far cry from the turgid affair on the same ground a fortnight ago, when they got done 30-25 by the Sharks, but for all their vigour they only had one McNicholl try to show for their endeavour.

There were multiple reasons for this: for starters the Force were happy to keep conceding penalties at the breakdown and when referee Mike Fraser refused to make good his threat about yellow cards the boys from Perth just kept digging in the rucks.

Then there were the Crusaders errors, who possessed a small mountain of ball and all the territory in the first half, that repeatedly compromised their attack.

Right wing McNicholl latched on to a tremendous pass by fullback Dagg and should have had another if prop Tim Perry hadn’t taken out a Force player earlier in the movement.

Crusaders fans couldn’t sneer at TMO Vinny Munro’s call. Technically he was bang-on.

It should also be remembered Munro was the bloke who disallowed the late try by Highlanders flyer Patrick Osborne when the Crusaders escaped with a 32-30 victory in Dunedin last weekend.

Crusaders 30 (Johnny McNicholl try, 2 penalty tries; Colin Slade 3 cons, 3 pens) Force 7 (Dane Haylett-Petty try; Sias Ebershon con). HT: 16-0.

– Stuff

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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