Lions tour: Warren Gatland finally gets chance to return fire to critics after win over Crusaders

Lions prevail in war of attrition against Crusaders

At last, Warren Gatland got his chance to squeeze off some shots of his own.

In the wake of the British and Irish Lions 12-3 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night, coach Gatland, probably still picking the buckshot out of his hide following the mid-week loss to the Blues and mediocre performance in the opener against the NZ Baabaas, didn’t waste his chance to return fire.

“It has been a tough week, there has been a lot of criticism hasn’t there?” Gatland said. “People have written the tour off after just two games, and that has been challenging. We just had to stay strong within the group and keep the faith and say ‘look the goal is the test matches and … to improve on that.

Gatland shouldn’t have had to go too far from his laager to find some folks who were chuffed with this result; the vocal Lions fans, who made their presence felt at AMI Stadium, would have flooded the city’s watering holes to acknowledge their side’s victory over a team yet to taste defeat in Super Rugby.

Gatland’s lot did a number on the Crusaders and you couldn’t gripe about the result; the game plan was simple, and executed with brutal efficiency.

In addition to raining down bombs on the Crusaders back three, the Lions’ used a defensive line-speed that forced the Mainlanders into uncharacteristic errors, which reduced their chances to unleash their trademark counterattacks.

Their set pieces were also competitive, although the Crusaders hardly helped themselves by botching several lineouts in the first half.

Complaints about the way French referee Mathieu Raynal handled the scrums are already flowing in thick and fast, and afterwards Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock took a diplomatic stance.

Whitelock, who had to watch as his front rowers Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks seethed whenever Raynal lectured them, acknowledged his side struggled to adapt to the interpretation of the law according to the Frenchman – getting the gap and balance right was a talking point at halftime.

Until this defeat, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson hasn’t had to deliver a post-match sermon in the wake of a loss.

Owen Farrell, pictured kicking one of his four penalties at AMI Stadium, made his first start of the tour for the British and Irish Lions.

Although they expected the Lions to employ the blitz defence, as they did against the Blues, and was clearly not thrilled about the way his scrum, which contained six All Blacks, was caned by Raynal, he said they let themselves down with their own execution.

“It was like a washing machine, go back and go forward, as they put the ball behind you,” Robertson said. “We just didn’t deal with it as well as we would have liked to.”

This was no mean feat by the Lions who will face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday night – even if they had to rely on Owen Farrell to kick four penalties.

Keeping the Crusaders try-less, one of the most lethal attacking teams in Super Rugby, will be a massive confidence booster. So, too, was the way the backline functioned after having to be re-jigged following the loss of fullback Stuart Hogg and centre Jonathan Davies because they failed head injury assessments.

“We were up against the most creative team in Super Rugby and they didn’t create a lot of chances,” Gatland noted.

About 20 minutes after Gatland had delivered his sermon a small earthquake caused the city to shake. You could also say the Lions’ have sent a message will reverberate throughout New Zealand; maybe it won’t cause great anxiety for All Blacks fans, but it should give them cause to think twice when saying their team should steam through the test series 3-0.

British and Irish Lions 12 (Owen Farrell 4 pen) Crusaders 3 (Richie Mo’unga pen) HT: 9-3


Blues silence Lions’ roar after fumbly Eden Park clash A torrid tour looks longer by the day.

Ihaia West’s late try gave the Blues a famous win over the British and Irish Lions.

It took all of 74 minutes but the difference between New Zealand rugby and the Lions eventually came to the fore.

Creativity, endeavour and offloads saw the Blues record a historic 22-16 triumph over the tourists at Eden Park, piling the pressure on Warren Gatland.

Watch it again and again if you can. Down by one point with time running out, Steven Luatua, in his final home match for the Blues, delivers a silky offload to Sonny Bill Williams who does likewise for Ihaia West. The out-of-favour Blues playmaker turns hero to scoot around two Lions defenders and race under the bar. It was brilliant, but not totally unexpected when it comes to New Zealand rugby.

Lions assistant coach Rob Howley described these sort of plays as ‘rugby chaos’. When it comes off like this, it is more like rugby romance. This was a magic moment.

The Lions still had one final shot to win it but they botched a lineout five metres out from the Blues line, robbing them of the chance to rumble over again. The Blues kicked the ball into touch and erupted. As did most of the 40,000 that packed the stands.

While the Blues are the first Super Rugby team to face – and beat – the Lions, they also follow the Auckland provincial team’s to knock over the same opposition on the same ground in 1930, 1983 and 1993. Memorable indeed.

Three-tries-to-one is reason enough to say the Blues deserved to win. That they did it with a scrum that was pinged off the park only enhances their claims.

Gatland’s men deserve credit for showing character to not concede with Liam Williams in the bin. But they again offered little on attack and now face the prospect of taking on the All Black-laden Crusaders pack three days later in Christchurch. Good luck with that.

Rieko Ioane starred on the left wing for the Blues, scoring one try and being denied two others. Once he had a foot in touch; the other was pulled back for a forward pass. But he was lethal with every touch.

Williams took a major step up on attack and defence, putting in countless tackles. But this was a collective effort from the Blues.

Over their jet-lag, the Lions arrived with much more energy than their first outing in Whangarei. Not that it was hard to improve from such a low starting point. Their line speed and rush defence frequently knocked the Blues ball carries back and made it difficult to get go-forward. One big hit from Courtney Lawes on Stephen Perofeta summed up their intent and aggression to shut down time and space.

But, on a wet Auckland night, the Lions also showed their hand and potentially lack of aerobic fitness by attempting to slow the pace at every opportunity – walking slowly to each lineout in especially.

Perofeta, in his first start for the Blues at No 10, did not look overawed. Twice he backed his instincts to throw ambitious long passes that put Ioane away, one of which resulted in the opening try. The 20-year-old made a try-saving tackle on Jared Payne; one cross field kick found Matt Duffie, and his touch line kicking was also generally sound. He dropped one ball on his own line under pressure but, otherwise, lived up to the hype in the biggest occasion of his career.

It was not an easy night but the composed nature of his 50-minute shift saw him receive a warm reception when replaced by West.

In the face of Warrenball criticism this week, the Lions offloaded at times and turned down two shots at goal in favour of backing their rolling maul. The Blues tried but failed to stop the second crack, conceding a try to CJ Stander. But, despite their dominance of possession, the Lions again created few genuine chances. Their maul still appears the greatest weapon.

Pressure, patience and phases did not translate into points, though french referee Pascal Guzere did the Lions few favours.

The Blues defence, strong all season, again held firm.

Tana Umaga’s men battled to get their share of the pill, partly because their scrum was a shambles and their lineout struggled to win clean ball. But they always looked more dangerous when they did control possession, much more so in the second half.

Halfback Rhys Webb and Stander were among the Lions’ best. English locks Maro Itoje and Lawes were strong, too. But given what’s to come, Gatland will again be forced to clutch for positives.

A torrid tour looks longer by the day.


Blues: (Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ihaia West tries, Stephen Perofeta con, Ihaia West pen, con )

Lions: (CJ Stander try, Leigh Halfpenny con, pen 3)

HT: 12-10

– Stuff

In rugby the All Blacks are sweeping all before them

It was Napoleon who was first recorded as saying he that he knew a battle would be won or lost by the degree of resolve shown by his troops in the periods of the fray when they had to defend, as opposed to when they were ordered to attack.

Rugby, we know, is war without guns and cannons. It is physical confrontation, first and foremost, and he who is not resolute in the physical showdowns is lost. A willingness to attack and the skill to offload in the tackle is what scores you tries and in the long run makes you a winner of competitions as opposed to also-rans, but deadly attack cannot happen if it is not underpinned by steadfastness on defence.

It is not being negative to say that in sport you first and foremost have to shore up your defence, you have to become a fortress and, quite literally, have the mindset of refusing to let the opposition score. It is as much a basic premise of soccer than it is of rugby. The trouble with both sports is when a team does not embrace the need to attack once they have sorted out their defence.

English soccer, and indeed the national team of that country, for too many years were too conservative in focusing solely on defence and hoping that the odd breakaway attack would win them the game.

It is why soccer teams such as Argentina, Germany and Spain have won the trophies in recent years while a team like England seldom advances beyond the quarter-finals.

And in rugby it is why the All Blacks are sweeping all before them. You can’t score against them and then once they have absorbed your pressure, they cut loose in the last 15 minutes with ruthlessly efficient attack and annihilate you. Because they can … How many games in recent years, especially against the Boks at Ellis Park, have the Kiwis been behind only to win emphatically with a brace of tries in the dying minutes…?

It is not being negative to say that defence must be the initial priority. It is the foundation. And, in fact, you cannot attack with long-term ambition if you do not have the springboard provided by a solid defence.

Over the two decades of Super Rugby, there is ample evidence to support this contention.

The Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs of New Zealand have historically illustrated the point. Those Kiwi teams for some 15 years of this competition naively believed that their maverick attacking play made them above the basic dictum that defence separates the men from the boys.

The Hurricanes, probably more than any other team, have illustrate that profligacy on attack and a secondary commitment to defence adds up to also-ran status.

Going back to the days of superstars such as Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga, the Hurricanes revelled in scoring memorable tries emanating from deep within their half with their devil-may-care approach.

And they were hugely entertaining, as were the Highlanders, Chiefs and also the Blues. But the bottom line was that those teams ultimately lost more games than they won while their more pragmatic countrymen, the Crusaders, monotonously won titles.

Which brings us to the Sharks … The Crusaders won 19-14 at Kings Park last week, their relentless attack ultimately prevailing over the magnificent defence and scrambled attack of the home team.

Almost a year to the day, the Crusaders had been back in Durban and hoping to emulate their 42 point win in 2015.

In that year, the Sharks were hopeless on attack and quite obviously the same on defence. This year the attack had not advanced, but the fortitude in the tackle mean that the result was in question going into the final ten minutes.

As coach Gary Gold said as the dust was settling on the result: “I am extremely positive because I know I have a team that is exuding character. As a coaching staff we can work with that. The players have the right attitude and that means we have the principle ingredient with which to craft something special. It was not like that last year.”

By Mike Greenaway


Sharks players that are suspended from rugby because of foul play will now be docked their wages.

This was the no-nonsense resolution passed at a meeting of the Board of the Sharks Directors at Kings Park yesterday.

The notorious disciplinary record of the Sharks in Super Rugby this year – three red cards and three yellows – was high on the agenda and the Board has shown firm leadership in clamping down on the issue by warning the players that they will be hit where it hurts most if they irresponsibly transgress – in their pockets.

Chairman of the Board Stephen Saad told The Mercury that the Board agree fully with the public that the reckless behaviour of some of the players is intolerable. Saad went further and said that the suspensions given to the players by organising body SANZAR is not enough.

“We have decided that going forward there must be a policy of ‘no pay for no play’ should a player be suspended for foul play,” said Saad, who is one of the country’s leading captains of industry with his pharmaceutical company, Aspen.

Saad said this would be a prerequisite in future player contracts at the Sharks and that the current players would be “asked” to have the clause accepted into their contracts.

“The Sharks Board agree that red cards and dirty play cannot be condoned and it is unacceptable that this behaviour be associated with the Sharks brand,” Saad said. “We endorse the executive management’s suggestion that the current censure (suspension from playing) is inadequate and can confirm that further sanction on the players has been taken over and above that served from SANZAR.

“To this end we consulted legal counsel with regarding ‘no play-no pay’ for red cards,” he continued. “We feel this new censure is appropriate and will have the necessary teeth.”

The Sharks have lost senior players in Bismarck du Plessis (four weeks for a kick to the head), Frans Steyn (five weeks for a tip tackle) and Jean Deysel (seven weeks for a knee to the head) plus have had three other sinbinned.’

Jean Deysel sent off during the Crusaders game in Durban on Easter Saturday

As it stands, the suspended players are on full pay. It is known that senior Springbok can earn up to R500 000 a month from provincial and national contracts, a fortune however you look at it but particularly if he is idle at home because of a reckless act on the field.

It is not going to happen again at the Sharks.

The three afore-mentioned players are part of the seven-man player leadership group and all have captained the team, and with another member of the group, Patrick Lambie, injured for six weeks, the impact of the suspensions has surely been keenly felt by the squad and the coaching staff, who count on the support of the leadership group.

But it was not all doom and gloom at the meeting. Saad said the good news was that there has been a financial recovery over the last year or so under CEO John Smit.

“At the KZNRU AGM the consolidated accounts showed a financial turnaround of nearly R22 million in a single year,” he said. “The largest part of this turnaround can be attributed to the Sharks’ financial improvements. John has not only managed his expenses well and implemented the needed governance but has been instrumental in driving the sponsorship revenue.

“This was sorely needed to underpin the investment we need to make in our squad to help impact the future strength of Sharks rugby.”

The Sharks face a must-win game against the Bulls at Kings Park on Saturday. They have slipped to ninth on the overall standings and have lost their last two games.

“On the rugby front the Board recognises that we are not where we would like to be but need to acknowledge that John and his team in less than two years have won a Currie Cup, been in a Currie Cup semi-final with a very young squad and topped the SA Conference in Super Rugby last year for the first time.”

by Mike Greenaway

Wayne Smith to return to the All Blacks coaching staff for the 2015 season

One of world rugby’s leading coaches, Wayne Smith, is to return to the All Blacks coaching staff for the 2015 season, it was announced today.

Smith, who was part of the All Blacks coaching staff from 2004 through to the team’s victory at Rugby World Cup 2011, and a Chiefs Assistant Coach from 2012-2014, will come in as a specialist defence coach and joins the coaching team of Head Coach Steve Hansen, Assistant Coach Ian Foster and fellow specialist coaches Mike Cron (forwards) and Mick Byrne (skills).

Born in the Waikato town of Putaruru, 57-year-old Wayne Smith CNZM played 35 games and 17 Tests for the All Blacks between 1980 and 1985 before embarking on his successful coaching career.

He coached the Crusaders to back-to-back Super Rugby victories in 1998 and 1999 (alongside Steve Hansen) and was a technical advisor to the All Blacks in 1998-1999 before taking over the top job for the following two seasons.

He spent three seasons with English club Northampton from 2001 to 2004 before re-joining the All Blacks coaching set up alongside Sir Graham Henry and Hansen.

Smith helped coach the All Blacks to Rugby World Cup victory in 2011 before joining the Chiefs coaching set up under Head Coach Dave Rennie helping the team to back-to-back Super Rugby victories in 2012 and 2013.

Sharks to up their physicality tonight against the Crusaders

The word from the Sharks this week is that they are going to have to up their physicality tonight against the Crusaders and the retort from the New Zealanders is that they will give as good as they get.

Yesterday, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told The Mercury that the need to win the physical battle had likewise been highlighted in the Crusaders camp.

“It always is when we are in South Africa,” the genial former All Blacks captain said. “When you play teams like the Stormers and the Sharks you know what is in store for you and if you don’t pitch up for the physical battle you can come badly second.

“It is the nature of the way the South African teams play. They are confrontational and you have to match them.”

The Crusaders have been doing that for the last three weeks. After an indifferent opening start to the season they clicked into form to beat the Bulls 41-19, then the Southern Kings 55-20 before outlasting the Stormers 19-14 last week.

Blackadder, one of the true gentleman of the game, said his team were thrilled to have the opportunity of taking maximum points from their South African tour by beating the Sharks.

History is certainly on their side. The Sharks have a disappointing record against the Crusaders, having won just twice in 16 encounters. But that statistic will not help the visitors tonight.

“It is about how long you can keep up the intensity in these games,” Blackadder said. “I feel that this year’s competition is even more physical than last year. Having said that, I am very pleased with how we have come through in training this week after the toll the Stormers game took on us. It is a short turnaround for us with it being a Friday game and the challenge is there for our guys to step up against a Sharks team that we respect and that will be refreshed from their bye.”

Interestingly, Blackadder said that the Crusaders had taken note of the tragic incident that occurred after the Rebels game and that while their job is to focus on the rugby, they would look forward to the Kings Park post-match experience.

“We were very sad to hear what happened. But the atmosphere on the Kings Park outer fields is special and we always look forward to mixing with the crowd after the game and will do so again,” he said.

Blackadder said his analysis of the Sharks’ season so far reminded him of his own team.

“I think both teams started slowly and are now building towards their best form,” he said. “The Sharks play a bit like New Zealand teams in how they try to use the ball and explore the width of the field.”

The Sharks scored a record 10 tries against the Rebels and while they will find the Crusaders’ defence an entirely different proposition to that of the Melbourne team, they have rediscovered their confidence to cross the try line.

“When we think of the Sharks we think of a team that was good enough to defy the odds and make the final of the 2012 competition,” Blackadder said. “That was some achievement.”

The Crusaders are a team that know better than anybody else what is required to make the Super rugby final. Since 1998, they have played 10 finals and won seven of them, and missed the play-offs just once.

But what will be bugging the good folk of Christchurch is that the last title was won in 2008 and that is four years too long for the most demanding fans in rugby.

But Blackadder knows that panic can only be counter-productive.

“You are under pressure but you have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise it affects your decision-making, the players, and the people you work with,” he says. “It can’t all be about the one outcome – winning a title.”

He is inferring that each week you do the best you can to secure the result in front of you and then hopefully the title takes care of itself. And it has certainly worked for the Crusaders over the years. They tend to be slow out of the blocks and then build irresistible momentum towards the business end of the competition.

Blackadder’s countryman, John Plumtree, will have been telling his Sharks charges exactly that this week – you let the Crusaders get into their stride at your peril. And that should add up to an explosive start to tonight’s match. It will not be for the faint of heart as two determined, in-form teams fight for the upper hand in a game that is too close to call.

Sharks: Frans Steyn, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Meyer Bosman, JP Pietersen, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Keegan Daniel (captain), Marcell Coetzee, Jacques Botes, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Anton Bresler, Ryan Kankowski, Charl McLeod, Riaan Viljoen, Louis Ludik / Sbura Sithole.

Crusaders: Tom Marshall, Adam Whitelock Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (captain), Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Telusa Veainu, Israel Dagg.

Referee: Lourens van der Merwe

By Mike Greenaway

Todd Blackadder has named his team making four changes for Sharks Game

The Crusaders play their fourth consecutive South African side this weekend when they meet the Sharks in Durban. The Sharks are currently sitting near the top of the table having won 4 out of 5 games and have come off a bye last week so will be rested and rearing to go. The two teams last met in 2011 in the playoffs where the Crusaders won 36-8 securing a place in the semi-finals.

Head Coach Todd Blackadder has named his team making four changes to the starting fifteen that played the Stormers last weekend.

Andy Ellis returns to halfback moving Willi Heinz to the bench. Zac Guildford moves to the left wing to replace Johnny McNicholl who fractured his fibula in last weekend’s game against the Stormers. While Adam Whitelock takes his place on the right wing.

Ben Funnell takes the number 2 jersey replacing Corey Flynn who has incurred an eye injury during training.

On the bench Telusa Veainu will have the opportunity to make his first appearance for the Crusaders if he makes it onto the field.

Kick-off is at 7:10pm on Friday 5 April (6.10am on Saturday 6th April NZ time) at Mr Price Kings Park, Durban.

Crusaders team to play the Sharks:

1. Wyatt Crockett 9. Andy Ellis Reserves
2. Ben Funnell 10. Tyler Bleyendaal 16. Codie Taylor
3. Owen Franks 11. Zac Guildford 17. Joe Moody
4. Luke Romano 12. Ryan Crotty 18. Dominic Bird
5. Samuel Whitelock 13. Robbie Fruean 19. Jordan Taufua
6. George Whitelock (c) 14. Adam Whitelock 20. Willi Heinz
7. Matt Todd 15. Tom Marshall 21. Telusa Veainu
8. Luke Whitelock 22. Israel Dagg
%d bloggers like this: