Crusaders scrape past Stormers in Christchurch

JUST SHORT: All Black Israel Dagg is held up short of the line.
JUST SHORT: All Black Israel Dagg is held up short of the line.

Tom Taylor proved the hero for the Crusaders as they snapped their unbeaten Super Rugby run to beat the Stormers 14-13 in Christchurch tonight.

The first five-eighth kicked a late penalty and then produced a magnificent tackle to cut down replacement Stormers wing Sailosi Tagicakibau in the final minute to give the Crusasders their first victory after three rounds.

Tagicakibau looked set to score when he burst through the defence and surged towards the line but had his legs whipped out from under him by a copybook Taylor defensive hit.

It would be nonsense to say this was a clinical Crusaders performance - their attack remains unable to bust open opponents and there are still far too many mistakes - but it was at least a win and coach Todd Blackadder will know nothing buys confidence like a victory.

For long periods the home side struggled to penetrate the blue swarm that was the Stormers defence, with handling errors and penalties continuing to stall their momentum.

A try in the 70th minute to replacement midfielder Kieron Fonotia, who completed a rush down the right-hand side, gave the Crusaders hope after they had trailed 13-6 and looked like they were heading for another defeat.

Fonotia, a wider training group player who plays for the New Brighton club in Christchurch and represents Tasman in the NPC, is unlikely to have scored a more memorable try.

Taylor's conversion near the sideline was well wide but the playmaker made no mistake with a penalty from around 38m out a couple of minutes later and - at last - the 14,000-strong crowd had something to bellow about as their side took a 14-13 lead.

Not surprisingly one of the Stormers best operators was their mighty Springboks flanker Schalk Burger.

Following injury and illness - which almost claimed his life when infection set in after he had a cyst drained near his spine - this was his first appearance in New Zealand since the 2011 World Cup.

Burger made an immediate impression, using his considerable bulk to bash ball carriers and shift bodies at the breakdowns.

The Stormers may have trailed 3-0 mid-way through the first stanza but they accumulated superior points in the psychological battle when their desperate defence kept the Crusaders try-less.

For six minutes the Crusaders mounted repeated attacks on the enemy line; they surged both wide and close to the ruck and spurned two kickable penalties in the hope of piercing the thin blue line that remained rock steady thanks to their scrambling tackles.
Israel Dagg went close but was held-up with millimetres to spare and skipper Kieran Read backed himself when he probably should have passed to his right.

Eventually it all came to nothing when referee Rohan Hoffman - and didn't he enjoy blasting a merry tune for ruck and scrum infringements - when tighthead prop Owen Franks was penalised for incorrect binding at the set piece.

While the Crusaders scrum was dominant, their lineout struggled as Stormers lock De Kock Steenkamp repeatedly contested their throws.

Being starved of possession and territory wasn't enough to douse the Stormers' fire and they were desperately unlucky not to be awarded a try in a rare attacking moment.Captain and centre Jean de Villiers lunged towards the base of the goal post but the TMO correctly ruled he was short.

With the scores locked-up 3-all at the break the Stormers, given how little ball they had to work with, knew they were in this game as they turned around with the wind at their backs in the second spell.

Within minutes of the restart there was more reason for the visitors to be frustrated when fullback Jaco Taute ignored an unmarked Kobus van Wyk and was captured in a smothering Dagg tackle.

Minutes later second five-eighth Damian de Allende made no such mistake.

A poor kick by Crusaders halfback Willi Heinz was collected by Burger, who fed a peach of a pass to De Villiers that resulted in the Boks midfielder chipping over the defence for De Allende to collect and score.

The last word, however, went to the Crusaders.

They grabbed the win. It wasn't pretty and the Stormers were unlucky but their season is at last under way.


Fairfax Media