Force is with the Crusaders in Christchurch

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 21:51 30/05/2014
Kieran Read
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
GOOD JOB BRO: Returning Crusaders No 8 Kieran Read celebrates with winger Johnny McNicholl after the latter scored a try.

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Sometimes you just have to be grateful for a win.

The Crusaders' 30-7 victory over the Force at AMI Stadium tonight looks comprehensive on the scoreboard but the reality it was a game which degenerated as the temperature plunged on a freezingChristchurch evening.

To take the glass half-full perspective would be to acknowledge the Crusaders, though inaccurate and unable to grab a fourth try for the treasured bonus point because of sloppy finishing, are now second on the Super Rugby log (41 points) behind the Sharks (44).

The late pressure they put on the Force, who were down to 14 men in the final minutes, also reflected the fact they scored two penalty tries - an unusual scenario at any level.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen would have also been relieved that star No 8 Kieran Read completed the match without showing any ill-effects from the concussion that had ruled him out of all rugby since April 19.

"The body's not bad but the legs are a little bit tired. I was happy to get through the 80 minutes,'' Read said.

"I thought our attitude was right tonight, we turned up to play but we got a little bit frustrated not getting that bonus point try.''

Fullback Israel Dagg suffered a painful blow to his shoulder in the 60th minute but indicated he should be fit to face England at Eden Park next weekend.

"After a couple of days rest, hopefully it will be alright,'' Dagg said.

Flanker Richie McCaw was also left nursing a sore limb but coach Todd Blackadder said it was "just a dead arm''.

Read, understandably for someone coming back from a brain injury, played within himself but still had the crowd bellowing with delight when he made a spectacular break which almost led to a try to wing Johnny McNicholl in the final minutes.

The Crusaders desire to keep the Force pinned to the canvas was underlined by their refusal, on several occasions, to kick for goal.

But concentration lapses kept the door ajar and the Force were only too happy to force it open by mounting repeated attacks and were rewarded with a try to right wing Dane Haylett-Petty.

Turnovers, breakdown penalties and a series of tit-for-tat kicking duels added to the Crusaders getting bogged down in an arm wrestle.

Left wing Nemani Nadolo was dynamite early on but was rarely sighted in the second half, playmaker Colin Slade kicked superbly once again and blindside flanker Jordan Taufua was accurate in the lineout and with his ball carries.

In the opening half it seemed the more the mercury sank the more the Crusaders wanted to apply the flame to the Force players' bellies with pop balls and wraparound passes in the tackle.

The joie de verve was welcomed but for all their vigour they only had one McNicholl try to show for their endeavour.

The Force were happy to keep conceding penalties at the breakdown and when referee Mike Fraser refused to make good his threat about yellow cards the boys from Perth just kept digging.

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Then there were the Crusaders errors which repeatedly compromised their attack.

McNicholl latched on to a tremendous pass by fullback Dagg and should have had another try if prop Tim Perry hadn't taken out a Force player earlier in the movement.

Crusaders fans couldn't sneer at TMO Vinny Munro's call. Technically he was bang-on.

"I felt we left a (competition) point out there tonight but I was very pleased with our intent and energy,'' Blackadder said.

"Execution at times at let us down. At times were almost guilty of playing too much.''

Crusaders 30 (Johnny McNicholl try, 2 penalty tries; Colin Slade 3 cons, 3 pens) Western Force 7 (Dane Haylett-Petty try; Sias Ebershon con). HT: 16-0.

- The Press

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