Crusaders defeat 'needs to be an anomaly'

VICTORS AND VANQUISHED: Unbridled joy for the Sharks, deep despair for Crusaders players after their 30-25 loss on Saturday night in Christchurch.
VICTORS AND VANQUISHED: Unbridled joy for the Sharks, deep despair for Crusaders players after their 30-25 loss on Saturday night in Christchurch.

Perhaps it's a good thing Todd Blackadder won't have his full squad for several days.

All Blacks duties mean Blackadder will be without 10 players until Wednesday, awarding him time to calm the storm inside his mind and to analyse why the Crusaders capitulated during Saturday night's shock 30-25 loss to a 14-man Sharks side.

The Crusaders will have just two training sessions ahead of Saturday night's match against the Highlanders, who sit two points above them on the Super Rugby leaderboard, in Dunedin.

''What they really need to highlight was that it was just a one-off performance because they had been playing really good football,'' Blackadder fumed. 

''This needs to be an anomaly. That's our challenge for next week, to show that it was.''

Jean Deysel's red card for stomping Jordan Taufua in the 16th minute gift-wrapped the Crusaders the chance to win their sixth consecutive match and join the Chiefs at the top of the New Zealand conference.

Instead they now sit third and with just five rounds left have put themselves under immense pressure.

That the Sharks, a side supposedly on the decline after two losses in three matches, were reduced to 13 men after Willem Alberts was yellow carded in the second half makes the result even more grisly.

The Crusaders' method of repeatedly kicking the ball away backfired; the Sharks knew what was coming and countered it by hoofing the pill back, constructing a remarkable scrambling defence and exploiting referee Rohan Hoffman's inexperience by slowing ruck ball.

The tactic that had previously worked so well proved too predictable: when the Crusaders didn't attempt to exploit the outnumbered Sharks by keeping possession the South Africans realised they were in with a chance of creating one of the great upsets.

Yesterday All Blacks coach Steve Hansen conceded the Crusaders were taught a harsh lesson.

''They [the Crusaders] didn't adapt and adjust to only playing against 13 men. Clearly their strategy was to put the ball in behind the Sharks and take advantage of that.

''Circumstances changed the way they should have played and that was something we [the All Blacks] as a team have to be really good at.

''There's good lessons there for all the sides.''

It was the Sharks' first win in Christchurch. 

The Crusaders missed Israel Dagg's experience at fullback and the penalty festival at scrum-time prevented them launching many useful backline plays.

Dagg, given the week off to recover from niggly injuries, possessed the organisational skills that could have prevented the Crusaders being stuck inside their own half.

Sloppy ruck ball and a lack of patience from exit plays added to the malaise.

Several try-scoring chances were ruined. 

Johnny McNicholl failed to flick the final pass to an unmarked Richie McCaw in the first half and Nemani Nadolo and Taufua couldn't grab Colin Slade's grubber kicks in the hot zone in the second spell.

A succession of handling errors in the opening minutes proved a sign of what was to come: ''You have to be mentally up for every game in this competition and we clearly weren't,'' Blackadder said.

Multiple selection changes are unlikely for this weekend but Blackadder will be wary of the threat Malakai Fekitoa presents in the Highlanders middhfield.

With the bigger Kieron Fonotia still nursing a hamstring injury he is stuck with Reynold Lee-Lo unless he shifts the giant Nadolo into the centre role.