Double delight for Crusaders No 7 Matt Todd
Commanding tanks might appeal to Matt Todd in the rugby after-life.
The openside flanker must have felt he was guiding a lethal machine when he collected two tries off the Crusaders relentless lineout drives during Saturday night's 34-8 win over the Highlanders.
The first five-pointer, which followed Sam Whitelock winning a throw uncontested, was crucial: it extended the Crusaders lead to 17-3 and meant the Highlanders' forwards' minds were clouded with self doubt as they trotted into the sheds at halftime.
They had reason to worry.
Todd scored his second several minutes following the restart when a Kieran Read take instigated another rumble towards the line.
"The guys up front are putting in the hard work and I'm just riding along at the back there," Todd reflected. "I think I probably owe them a few beers. We have probably been a little bit predictable with a lot of off-the-top ball stuff so it's good to have another option."
New Zealand teams have often copped criticism for not engaging opponents with rolling mauls, but the Crusaders, as the All Blacks did when they surprised the English by driving more in the second test in Dunedin, proved they have the ability to alter their attack as they prepare for their semifinal on July 25-26.
Unlike the previous match against the Blues, when they often shifted the ball towards Nemani Nadolo's wing, the Crusaders were willing to break the Highlanders by bludgeoning them with their grunt up front and replacement hooker Corey Flynn scored the third try from a rolling maul to secure the vital four-try bonus point.
That, combined with their menacing set-pieces, sealed the Highlanders fate.
In the first half Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman battled to find his jumpers whose job was complicated by Read and Whitelock contesting his throws.
Read's decision to spurn a kickable penalty, and go for the attacking lineout that led to Todd's first five-pointer, was a result of him giving assistant coach and sideline messenger Tabai Matson the cold shoulder.
"The coaches obviously wanted a kick but I got rid of Tabs pretty quickly," Read, whose offloads and hard-running down the outside channels bolstered the attack before he was replaced in the 50th minute, laughed.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph defended his pack when reflecting on their struggling set pieces, their scrum was also well beaten, noting they were fighting against a team laden with All Blacks.
But the reality is the Crusaders' total could have neared 50 points. Dan Carter missed four kicks at goal, including an easy penalty he could have back-heeled over, and it was only the desperate Highlanders' defence that prevented several line breaks being converted into tries.
"I think we have got a bit of momentum now," Read added. "Performances, at this time right now, are a lot better than what we were last year when we were probably limping into the semis and really fighting to make it."
- The Press
Which 2015 NZ Super Rugby team looks best?