Crusaders win epic vs Stormers in Cape Town
Two tries from dynamic prop Wyatt Crockett sparked the depleted Crusaders to one of the greatest, and most courageous, victories in their storied Super rugby history.
The seven-time champions, forced to play flanker Matt Todd on the wing for 45 minutes after a first-half injury crisis, dug deep to produce a gutsy but deserved 20-14 victory over South Africa's strongest team, the Stormers, in Cape Town this morning.
The Crusaders started without injured All Black stars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter but second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams lived up to his pre-match hype by helping create Crockett's tries with his unerring offloading ability.
This was truly a contest of test match intensity, with the Crusaders, missing six current All Blacks, displaying defensive resilience akin to their great Super 12 grand final win in Canberra in 2000.
Todd Blackadder's team made 113 tackles and held the Stormers tryless in the second spell to silence 48,500 fans at Newlands.
Much had been expected from the Crusaders' red-hot back three, Israel Dagg, Sean Maitland and Zac Guildford. But, only Guildford remained by the 30-minute mark. Dagg limped off after just five minutes with a quadricep problem after a clearing kick. Maitland hobbled to the sideline with a foot injury on the half-hour.
The Crusaders had to make a double substitution then, with Tasman Mako Tom Marshall replacing Maitland and Willi Heinz taking over at halfback from Kahn Fotuali'i.
That meant the Crusaders had used all three substitute backs before the interval and, to compound their injury woes, Dagg's replacement at fullback, Adam Whitelock, had to replaced after dislocating a shoulder. That left the backline cupboard bare, so reserve backrower Jonathan Poff took the field on the flank and Todd moved out to the wing.
Despite the Crusaders' multiple personnel changes, the first half was still the absolute arm wrestle everyone expected. The lead changed hands throughout with both teams playing with plenty of width and being rewarded with two sparkling tries.
The capacity Newlands crowd began celebrating prematurely when halfback Dewaldt Duvange intercepted a quick lineout taken by Crusaders captain Kieran Read to scoot over for a fifth minute "try''. But Wellington referee Chris Pollock ruled the wrong ball had been used for Read's restart, disallowed the try and ordered another lineout.
The Crusaders rebounded to score the game's first try after a great turnover after flanker George Whitelock put pressure on Stormers fullback Conrad Jantjes. Williams got his hands through a tackle by giant lock Andries Bekker to feed his outside men. The ball was flicked to Read who made an overhead basketball pass for looming loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett to score. Matt Berquist converted for a 7-0 lead.
But Lionel Cronje landed a penalty for the Stormers after the Crusaders were caught offside at a ruck to make it 7-3.
The Stormers showed their class in the 19th minute with a fine try to Springboks centre Jaque Fourie from a set lineout move. Bekker won the throw the ball was sped through the line to 21-year-old wing Johann Sadie making his first Super 12 start. He ran a smart angle to befuddle the defence and Fourie flashed through for his fifth try for the Stormers.
Berquist put the Crusaders back in front, 10-8, with his second penalty after 22 minutes but the Stormers led 11-10 at halftime after Cronje goaled in the 34th minute.
The Crusaders came out of the blocks with a hiss and a roar after the interval, winning an early lineout for hooker Corey Flynn to rumble the ball up close to the Stormers' line. A few phases later, the Stormers strayed offside and Berquist made them pay, kicking the penalty for a 13-11 lead to the Crusaders.
But it proved short-lived with Cronje restoring the Stormers' advantage, 14-13, three minutes later.
Heinz looked set to score his first Super 15 try when he slashed through from the 40m mark in the 52nd minute but a desperation tackle dislodged the ball from his grasp as he got set to lunge for the line.
Berquist was astray with a dropped goal attempt and narrowly missed with a 49m penalty after a Stormers' scrummaging offence.
The Crusaders scrum was dominant again, with Crockett conquering the Stormers' two tighthead props and continuing his fine form around the field. His huge hit on flanker Francois Louw was a highlight.
Man of the match Crockett celebrated his second try in the 63rd minute after some midfield magic from Williams and centre Robbie Fruean. A sneaky Sonny Bill offload gave Fruean the room to smash through the defence out near the right flank. The ball was kept alive, Crockett got his big mitts on it and carried three or four defenders over the line.
The Stormers blew a big chance after loose forward Nick Koster cut through the Crusaders defence but prop Brok Harris' hands let him down.
There were heroes aplenty for the Crusaders with their clutch of reserves showing ice-cool nerves as they stepped into the breach. Veteran lock Chris Jack relished his return to Newlands, where he played for Western Province in 2009, putting pressure on big rival Bekker.
Todd was terrific, again, initially at openside where he was a late replacement for McCaw and out on the wing where did his job without shirking his natural urge to remain involved at the breakdown.
Marshall was yellow-carded just seconds before Todd hacked the ball into touch on the final hooter.
Crusaders 20 (Wyatt Crockett 2 tries; Matt Berquist 2 conv, 2 pen) Stormers 14 (Jaque Fourie try, Lionel Cronje 3 pen). HT: Stormers 11-10.