Crusaders upset Stormers in Cape Town
A remarkable defensive effort ensured the Crusaders upset the Stormers 19-14 in Cape Town this morning.
The Crusaders had to fight back from being 11-0 down mid-way through the first half and overcome injuries to tighthead prop Owen Franks and right wing Johnny McNicholl.
Franks succumbed to a painful rib injury in the 11th minute and was replaced by Joe Moody. McNicholl joined Franks in the infirmary when he wrenched his knee in a ruck and had to be stretchered off the ground before Adam Whitelock was called upon.
Despite their recent winning record in Cape Town – they won both matches there in 2011 – the Crusaders ranked pre-match underdogs.
Being without Dan Carter (who became a father for the first time yesterday) and Kieran Read (toe injury) ensured the bookies preferred to back the home side and they will have felt vindicated by offering such odds when the tourists announced All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg has been scratched because of a hamstring problem.
A pulsating final five minutes, in which the Stormers repeatedly attacked their opponets’ line after being awarded a string of penalties and spurning shots at goal, involved the Crusaders attacking anything in a blue jersey and ended with the rare sight of head coach Todd Blackadder throwing his arms in the air as he celebrated the win in the coach’s box.
Led by new skipper George Whitelock the Crusaders commitment at the breakdown and in defence had multiple benefits; they frustrated the Stormers into infringing around the rucks and coughing up ball at crucial times.
Before the match the Crusaders promised to pressure Stormers lineout ace Andries Bekker and they kept their word.
Through locks Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano they harried the South Africans into losing six of their own lineout throws by daring to compete in defensive positions, create vital turnovers and ease the tension.
A more conservative game-plan, which involved first five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal clearing the ball from inside his half, ramped-up more pressure on their defence and their opponents succumbed with a string of handling errors and also missed vital tackles.
George Whitelock was inspirational and the performance of youngest brother Luke at No 8 ensures Blackadder will have no hesitation in selecting him again for the next match against the Sharks in Durban.
This was undoubtedly Bleyendaal’s best performance for the Crusaders as he ensured his side stuck to their game plan and proved a defensive rock.
Although the Crusaders were determined to not give away needless penalties they immediately embarked on a senseless mission of testing referee Craig Joubert’s patience.
Franks coughed-up a penalty for holding back a player on the ruck fringes, Tom Marshall spilled a ball in the tackle that was picked-up by a team-mate in an offside position and Wyatt Crockett went digging for ruck ball while off his feet.
Crockett’s infringement proved most costly; the Stormers kicked for touch and the subsequent lineout drive resulted in No 6 Siya Kolisi plunging over for a try.
Joe Pietersen’s two penalties advanced the Stormers lead to 11-0 but that lead was slowly reeled in as the Crusaders remained their composure.
Fullback Marshall was responsible for chewing-up the early metres before Matt Todd scored the Crusaders’ opening try that allowed them to start clawing back the 11-0 deficit.
Marshall weaved his way through the defence and when unable to link with his support just short of the line he set-up a ruck. The subsequent attacking movements eventually led to Todd racing on to a cracking short-ball from lock Sam Whitelock. Bleyendaal kicked the simple conversion.
Two more penalties by Bleyendaal ensured the Crusaders went into the halftime break ahead 13-11.
Wing Zac Guildford’s second start since returning from his self-imposed ban was unremarkable until he was involved in an incident that resulted in the Stormers reduced to 14 men in the third quarter.
Duane Vermeulen flipped Guildford on to his back and re-plays instigated by the television match official confirmed the Stormers No 8 was going to cop a yellow card.
It was a call that was technically correct but drew little favour from the crowd; there appeared to be no malicious intent on Vermeulen’s behalf and Guildford was not hurt.
Despite the reduction in numbers the Stormers thrived in the loose forward’s absence; their magnificent defence ensured the visitors were kept scoreless while Pietersen slotted three points when Sam Whitelock was pinged at a ruck.
But it was in the final minutes that the Crusaders showed they are still title contenders.
They defended stoutly and although Joubert would have been justified in awarding a yellow card any number of forwards in the final minutes they retained composed to record a memorable win.
Crusaders 19 (Matt Todd try; Tyler Bleyendaal con, 4 pens) Stormers 14 (Siya Kolisi try; Joe Pietersen 4 pens).