Read, Carter returns positive for Crusaders
Bowed, but not beaten, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder had two big pluses to draw out of his team’s off-colour 16-9 loss to the Hurricanes.
Those positives went by the names of No 8 Kieran Read and first five-eighth Dan Carter, with Blackadder giving his two aces a flying pass mark for their returns to Super Rugby.
“I thought DC came out and did a great job to be honest, a bit like Reado,” Blackadder said after the pair got through 33 minutes and 27 minutes respectively.
It was the sight of Read crashing into the defence with ball in hand that pleased his coach most and Blackadder defended his decision not to start his star loose forward against the Hurricanes.
“It’s been a tough week for Reado… The more people keep talking about it the more anxiety it creates,” he said.
“With an elite player like Reado you have to be careful how much you talk about it… he’s just human.
“He’s a guy who has been through a lot. He needs the pressure taken off so he can just relax. We did that this week and he got out there and played really well and feels really great now, so that’s a plus.”
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Read and Carter’s return, and a strong set piece, were rare glimmers of light on a night when Hurricanes lock/loose forward Blade Thomson capped a dominant performance for the home side with two tries.
“It was probably the worst 40 minutes we’ve had all season,” Blackadder said. “I was pleased with the way we responded at halftime. We were probably lucky to be in touch to be honest.
“Right from the start we just looked rusty, we couldn’t get out of second gear and as the game went on we got better and better.”
Nowhere near good enough though to repel a hungry Hurricanes side led by Thomson, hooker Dane Coles and replacement flanker Jack Lam, who formed a formidable partnership with Ardie Savea.
Thomson’s late 50 metre dash kept the Hurricanes playoff hopes alive in front of their biggest home crowd of the season, 16,058.
Coach Mark Hammett’s side are in fifth place and if they beat the Chiefs in Hamilton next week in their final regular season match they are a good bet to reach the playoffs.
The Crusaders need not panic, still top of the New Zealand Conference and third overall, and with home matches against the Highlanders and Blues to play.
However, they will need to play a whole lot better than they did tonight to challenge for the title.
The red and blacks provided a stark illustration of how far a great set piece and plenty of defensive character can carry a side.
They battled away, out of the game for most of the night, but still trailed just 11-9 with 20 minutes to play.
Read entered the fray at 47 minutes after blindside Jordan Taufua finally succumb to a sore knee and Carter replaced a concussed Colin Slade a few minutes later when the first-five headed down the tunnell following a heavy clash with Hadleigh Parkes.
Slade wouldn’t return and neither would the Crusaders despite prop Owen Franks building on the good work of Nepo Laulala before him.
The Hurricanes must have wondered if the red and black wall was ever going to yield after so much attacking intent, and so little reward.
Finally it did when Thomson hared onto a Cory Jane grubber and flew past hapless Crusaders fullback Tom Taylor to score his second try of the night.
For most of the night it looked as though the Belfast senior 1s had accidentally boarded the plane north and taken the field in place of the Crusaders.
The visitors worked their way through a long list of basic errors as the Hurricanes dominated field position and posession.
Fullback Taylor had lead in his boots at the back as innocuous kicks turned into frenetic moments of survival on several occasions. Luke Whitelock spilled a high ball, Kieron Fonotia skewed a clearance and Slade had one charged down.
Key forward Sam Whitelock looked shagged after his test duties.
For all that there was plenty of drama including quick fire injuries to Hurricanes No 8 Vitor Vito (calf) and second-five Alapati Leiua (ankle) before the 10 minute mark.
Both are likely to keep them out next week, but hookers Coles (bruised calf) and Motu Matu’u (stinger) are less serious.
Barrett and Slade traded penalties and though the Hurricanes were only up 6-3 by the 25 minute mark, they were growing in confidence.
Wing Julian Savea was full of energy on the wing and skittling defenders at will, while Barrett’s electric counter attack and swift pass had the crowd on their feet.
The dam broke after Savea scooped up an ill-timed Fonotia grubber and hacked it down field before swooping on Taylor.
The Hurricanes poured in, and Barrett swung the ball wide to Thomson, who showed some nifty footwork to score out wide to push his side out to 11-3 after half an hour.
Any doubt about the intent of both sides was erased when Coles and Ellis got into an ill tempered wrestling match that saw players from both sides unleash their man purses to little effect.
Hurricanes 16 (Blade Thomson 2 tries, Beauden Barrett 2 pen) Crusaders 9 (Colin Slade 3 pen). HT: 11-3