Marshall: Too early to say Crusaders are back

JUSTIN MARSHALL
Last updated 05:00 25/03/2013
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SURGING BACK: After a slow start, the Crusaders now look the goods to reach the Super Rugby playoffs.

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OPINION: Another quality, clinical performance from the Crusaders, though I'm reserving judgment on my old team until after the next three weeks on tour which could make or break their season.

Any time you score seven tries and put 50 past a team at this level, you've got to be happy. And it's easy to understand why the second half at Christchurch's AMI Stadium wasn't as high quality as the first. When everything you want to get out of the game is achieved in the first half-hour, it can lose its shape.

The Crusaders' performance in its entirety was good but they did taper off. Some of that is down to the Southern Kings, who tried to compete but weren't at the level of their opponents. If I've got one criticism, it is that the Crusaders coaches could have got one or two vital players out of the game earlier. Leaving Kieran Read on for so long was a mistake.

He had done enough in 50 minutes, with the game in the bag.

In the end, Read limped off with a toe injury. He now heads to the hard grounds in South Africa and I can say from experience that toe/foot injuries are very hard to get over. I thought they might also have been better served giving Dan Carter 80 minutes. He has got no rugby for three weeks now and they could have moved him out to 12 if they were intent on giving Tyler Bleyendaal some time at 10.

This trip could define the Crusaders' season. They are going to struggle to catch the Chiefs unless they come back with at least two wins. There's a bit of talk about that the Crusaders are now back to their best. I'm not quite so sure. They're still introducing players, they have some injury concerns, and the fluidity is still not quite there.

They are still not the machine they can be and the absence of Richie McCaw, and now Carter on paternity leave, won't help on one of the toughest trips you can make.

The Crusaders still have their challenges over the next half-dozen weeks and though they have the capacity to overcome them, they are going to have to get even better.

Remember, after two weeks they were poor. The Bulls game was a good win but they should have put 50 past this Kings side.

That's why I'm keeping my feet on the ground about where they're at.

The Highlanders, meanwhile, will be kicking themselves.

They were much improved against the Chiefs and if they had been in a better position mentally, they could easily have won.

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When you're down in the deep hollows and things aren't going well, those opportunities that stick when you are confident tend to go to grass.

The Highlanders probably outplayed the Chiefs but the Chiefs are that team the Crusaders were when I was involved.

We won games when the opposition played better because we were good at taking our limited opportunities.

It will be tough for the Highlanders watching that game in the team room this morning, knowing it was such a crucial match. That will kick them in the guts much more so than when you are outplayed.

When you are the better team and still haven't won, that really does grate.

The Chiefs got a huge amount of confidence out of last year and have a plethora of X-factor players, men like Tim Nanai-Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Richard Kahui, Aaron Cruden and Lelia Masaga.

When things aren't going well, they can sniff an opportunity and punch a hole in the game.

The Hurricanes have the Kings next off the bye and this is a good game for them to get some players back into form.

I'm thinking Beauden Barrett and Andre Taylor in particular.

Last year Taylor was everything that was good about the Hurricanes, now he's on the bench. And he is too good a player to be sitting there.

Finally, I've got to say I'm loving the new five-second rule at ruck time which has improved the game as a spectacle. Players are aware the ball has to move quickly and, as a result, the game is much better. I can't say the same about the tackler rolling away.

Refs are being too harsh, too pedantic and not showing enough compassion when players are making an effort.

MARSHALL LORE

The Cheetahs are on fire. A tour with wins over the Highlanders, Waratahs and Force is monumental. What a fabulous launching pad for a table-topping finish for a team who are notoriously difficult to beat at home.

George Whitelock just goes about his work and does it with consistency and composure. He reminds me of Reuben Thorne as a player who is vital to the balance and dynamics of the team. He is unassuming and reasonably quiet as a bloke but the rugby he is playing is creating deserved attention.

Great to see Will Genia back on the field. He plays at a different level to everyone else. His running game, and the way he pulls in ruck defenders and creates space for support players is a great skill that also benefits his 10s. He is the No 9 all others have to catch.

- The Dominion Post

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