Knowler: Slack defence aids Crusaders chances

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2014
Matt Todd
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TAKING THE HIT: Crusaders No 7 Matt Todd tackles Schalk van der Merwe during their Super Rugby clash at Ellis Park. The Crusaders won 28-7.
Crusaders
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A boisterous party followed the Crusaders' last win in Bloemfontein in 2007, writes Richard Knowler.

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OPINION: A boisterous party followed the Crusaders' last win in Bloemfontein in 2007.

Missing their All Blacks because of the World Cup reconditioning programme, the Crusaders, under coach Robbie Deans, fielded a side featuring men like Brent Ward, Rua Tipoki, Stephen Brett, Johnny Leo'o and Michael Paterson.

There was a young kid called Kieran Read at blindside flanker but he was still cutting his milk teeth at Super Rugby level and hadn't stacked on the extra muscle mass that makes him such a beast with the ball and so lethal in defence.

The Crusaders knew they were about to be pitched into the proverbial bonfire as they marched into the Free State capital but went out and whacked the Cheetahs 49-28 at Vodacom Park anyway.

Prior to kickoff there was much optimism from local fans. They roared down Bloemfontein's main thoroughfare in their "bakkies" waving the team's flags and later drank their grog over their braais to the popular song of the day, la Rey, a tune about the Boers scrapping the British.

Crusaders coach Robbie Deans, sensing the Cheetahs were vulnerable to an all-out attack by his relatively raw but enthusiastic backline and having spotted the pack didn't commit big numbers to the rucks, instructed his men to play with precision, power and intent.

The result was a six-try rout and when the Crusaders got back to their hotel they ripped into the beers.

The next day some slept off the previous night's celebrations by laying around the pool, while others went hunting and gave the meat to some local Africans.

Given his team have to play the Chiefs a week later, current coach Todd Blackadder is unlikely to let his team to celebrate in such spectacular fashion if they beat the Cheetahs on Sunday morning.

The stakes are too high; the Crusaders, 12th on the Super Rugby log, must rest and rehabilitate before meeting the defending champions at Waikato Stadium.

Yet there is no doubt a win over the Cheetahs will be cherished. And the Free State side, who have collected just a win and a draw from seven matches, can be exploited.

Blackadder needs to make sure his offensive unit, which thanks to Andy Ellis, Ryan Crotty and Johnny McNicholl led their side to the 28-7 win over the Lions in Johannesburg last weekend, has a razor edge.

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The Cheetahs have the worst defensive record around, conceding 251 points - including 29 tries.

By comparison the Crusaders have ruled teams with an iron fist in this facet; their record (127) is the third best behind the Sharks (101) and the Waratahs (105).

As seen during last week's 43-all draw against the Chiefs, the Cheetahs possess a potent attack and halfback Sarel Pretorious, back in South Africa after a miserable stint with the Waratahs, used his acceleration to repeatedly dart through holes.

Flanker Heinrich Brussow may return from injury to enhance the Cheetahs fetching power but the Crusaders are hopeful No 8 and captain Read will have recovered from concussion.

Winning the fight up front will be crucial but it is exploiting the Cheetahs defence that may be key.

- Fairfax Media

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