Crusaders back on track with Bulls victory
RICHARD KNOWLER IN CHRISTCHURCH
The Crusaders finally flexed their muscles tonight as they rammed their swords into the Bulls to break their Super Rugby drought and record a 41-19 win at AMI Stadium.
A fortnight of frustration, in which the Crusaders dropped their opening two matches and watched team-mate Zac Guildford publicly admit he is an alcoholic, ended as they ensured the Bulls' 17-year losing streak in the Garden City remained intact.
Like a slow burning fuse the seven-time champions finally exploded into action and had already nabbed the bonus point within minutes of the halftime break.
Robbie Fruean, Kieran Read, Johnny McNicholl and Tom Marshall scored five-pointers to bring up that milestone as the Bulls relied on Morne Steyn's kicking to keep in touch.
Fans from even the remotest pockets of the upper South Island must have heard coach Todd Blackadder let out a sigh of relief as referee Chris Pollock sounded the final whistle and he will now hope the volume in the debate about whether the franchise is in decline will ease a few notches.
Blackadder may also feel some vindication for introducing an entertaining game-plan which revolves a mixture of playing at pace, keeping the ball alive and often moving it to within millimetres of the touch lines to stretch defences.
One of the most heart-warming sights for Crusaders fans was the increased involvement of fullback Israel Dagg.
Having struggled to get involved in the previous matches, Dagg's ramped-up his presence on attack and his ability to run with the ball with both hands posed plenty of questions to the scrambling Bulls' defence.
Left wing McNicholl also impressed in just his second outing at this level; he was tested three times under the high ball in the opening quarter and rattled on his first Super Rugby try.
Fellow wing Tom Marshall was in cracking form, using his deceptive pace to score a fine individual try and set up another for Wyatt Crockett.
It was no surprise that No 8 and captain Read was in inspiring form.
He always seems to fire against the Bulls and last night he inspired his pack, men like the Whitelock boys and Owen Franks, to join him in bounding out of the trenches.
Their perseverance in the lineouts - in which they always competed against the opposition throws - and the staunch scrum also made major contributions to this result.
So emotional was Fruean when he scored his try there were fears that the ball might explode when he slammed it to the turf in celebration.
The monstrous Crusaders centre had endured a miserable opening period as his side's game plan of bringing the ball wide repeatedly broke down because of handling errors.
Within 23 minutes the Crusaders had chalked-up an eye-popping eight mistakes. Fruean was guilty for more than his share; so when he coasted across to score - when the Bulls were down to 14 men because wing Akona Ndungane was injured - his relief was immense.
His effort appeared to inspire the Crusaders and within minutes they rattled on their second try as Read burrowed over near a ruck.
Two Steyn penalties closed the gap to 15-9 before McNicholl recorded the Crusaders third five-pointer after the halftime hooter.
He only had to catch-and-dash for this effort but like the majority of his team-mates was involved in the prolonged build-up.
Multiple phases ensured the Bulls were continually back-pedalling and the Crusaders' composure meant they never lost their cool as the narrowed their attack before finally releasing McNicholl down the left flank.
Crusaders 41 (Robbie Fruean, Kieran Read, Johnny McNicholl, Tom Marshall, Wyatt Crockett, Willi Heinz tries; Dan Carter 5 cons, pen) Bulls 19 (Deon Stegmann try; Morne Steyn con, 4 pens). HT: 22-9.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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