Randell: Crusaders are the class of 2013

TAINE RANDELL
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2013
Dan Carter
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TRY TIME: Dan Carter goes into score for the Crusaders.

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OPINION: The Crusaders' demolition of the Chiefs isn't the surprise the scoreline suggests.

With a week to play in Super Rugby's regular season, the ramifications of the 43-15 result in Christchurch are yet to unfold.

It certainly stalled the Chiefs' hopes of getting the New Zealand conference title, and dented their hopes of securing the No 1 spot overall, both crucial factors for the looming playoffs.

It also confirmed the Crusaders' place in the playoffs.

The Crusaders now loom as New Zealand's best chance at the business end of the championship.

No one will want to strike them, and the reason will be their performance against the Chiefs.

I've spoken in the past about how I believed the Chiefs are a better-coached team but the Crusaders are a better side player for player.

And it's in these top games, especially the one-off type matches where that talent will shine through.

Much has been made of the "moneyball" method that was at the heart of the Chiefs winning last year's Super Rugby title.

They identified unheralded players who had solid statistics to back up their energy, players who had been overlooked by other sides but who they saw as solid characters with a potential to develop alongside their stars.

These players thrived in the superb coaching set-up and helped a Chiefs side overachieve. They produced a long winning record, although they were hurt by losing some of their top talent in the offseason.

And when you become reliant on players over-achieving, that approach can come unstuck, particularly in one-off games and the big occasions.

You can see it in golf's Majors, where class shines through time and again.

It's when you get to the money games that the big boys stand up and the Crusaders look like they are doing just that.

And given their depth of top talent, when those real superstars start to hit their stride, it's particularly potent.

Israel Dagg is coming into his game now, when it matters most.

And Kieran Read was huge against a Chiefs pack missing Liam Messam.

They are interesting cases.

Dagg's early-season form saw his game put under the microscope, but he has come on dramatically since his time in the All Blacks. He's just been looking better and better each week over the past month or so.

He was influential against the Chiefs, ironically a team he had been linked to earlier in the week.

And Read's game has come on for different reasons. While Dagg was trying to play his way out of his slump, Read was sidelined with a toe injury. His class shone as he came back on the eve of the test series and confirmed his place as the All Blacks' stand-in skipper.

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The Crusaders decided to rest him the week before against the Highlanders, and then unleashed him against the Chiefs. He was inspirational, scoring two tries, and making all the right calls in the crucial period either side of halftime when the Crusaders ripped the game away from the Chiefs with three tries.

And who wouldn't want Dan Carter in the playmaker's role and doing the goalkicking at a time when every point counts? Carter, too, is looking more slick with each outing.

The last round for New Zealand's two finalists is an interesting equation but the status quo should remain.

The Crusaders host the Hurricanes on Friday. Again, man for man, they look too good.

The Chiefs travel up the motorway to take on a Blues side who will have flown back from South Africa, and the motivation will be all in the Chiefs camp after this latest slip-up.

So two teams into the playoffs and it's what happens from there that counts. Advantage to the better-equipped Crusaders, I suspect.

Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain

- Sunday News

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