Crusaders backs head to the drawing board
It will be a case of backs to the drawing board when the Crusaders use their bye week to try and complement trademark defensive intensity with a much-needed cutting edge on attack.
Despite recording consecutive wins on Australian soil for the first time since their last Super Rugby title in 2008, the Crusaders' inability to score tries continued in last night's turgid 25-19 defeat of the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park.
Facing a team that conceded four five-pointers within 30 minutes at the lowly Western Force in their previous outing, the Crusaders needed almost an hour to record their solitary try to hooker Ben Funnell after Nafi Tuitavake and Kieran Read created an overlap.
The selection of Colin Slade at first five-eighth for the first time this campaign - and the reinstatement of Israel Dagg to fullback - was intended to give an under performing back division impetus and direction though neither All Black was able to provide a significant point of difference in a fifth round clash dominated by frustrating scrummaging and a high penalty count.
Slade, the third pivot used by Blackadder following Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor, had a difficult return to the prime position and was fortunate not to engineer a Rebels try before halftime when his 22-metre restart was charged down.
Dagg, who rescued the Crusaders when forcing that loose ball, was solid defensively, but was well contained on the counter attack until he retired with a knee injury heading into the final quarter.
Blackadder put on a brave face after the Crusaders avenged an embarrassing 28-19 loss to the Rebels in their first meeting in Melbourne two years ago - they also beat the Brumbies in Canberra late last season to win back-to-back in Australia for the first time since the Robbie Deans era.
After praising a defensive effort that kept their line intact until former Wellington flanker Scott Fugistaller pierced a maul in the 79th minute, Blackadder made no attempt to mask the deficiencies of a backline missing the organisational skills of Dan Carter and an X-factor in the mould of a Robbie Fruean.
"I'm a little disappointed in our attack," rued Blackadder, after the Crusaders try count crawled to six from four matches.
Bonus points are traditionally critical and the seven-time champions are yet to record four tries - a trio against the Blues remains the highest yield.
There was no prospect of the Crusaders running amok in perfect underfoot conditions, instead they generally moved laterally, allowing the Rebels to regroup until Funnell crossed in the right hand corner.
"We didn't take our opportunities, we got a little bit lateral," said Blackadder, who predictably revealed the team's offensive strategies would be a focus before the Crusaders host the Hurricanes on March 28.
"We'll put a lot of work into our attack, there's a few things that we can do that will improve our game.
"Our guys are diligent and smart. While it's not quite flowing there's some real excitement there. We're not far away," he said, accepting responsibility for the lack of potency out wide.
"The backs had some reasonably good touches, it's just not quite gelling. I put my hand up for that too. It's the third game with a different 10. It's going to take a little bit of time."
Fortunately for the Crusaders, the Rebels rarely threatened to cross the line, gilt edged opportunities when they game was in the balance were sabotaged by a wonky scrum and crooked lineout throw.
The Rebels discipline was also lacking as Taylor nailed a perfect seven-from-seven attempts, including a half dozen handy penalties.
Australia referee James Leckie was particularly severe on the Rebels scrum, penalising the home eight on five occasions to either produce points or relieve pressure.
Blackadder was justifiably proud of another robust defensive effort as the Crusaders provisionally improved to eighth by backing up after the previous round's one-point win over the Stormers
"These away games are often very tough and often measured in your defence and your attitude.
"Off the back of not having a potent attack we defended with our hearts. That probably made the difference in the end," he said.
The Crusaders embark on their week off with no new serious injury concerns although Dagg and centre Ryan Crotty are nursing leg injuries.
Crusaders 25 (Ben Funnell try; Tom Taylor 6 pen con) Melbourne Rebels 19 (Scott Fugistaller try; Jason Woodward 3 pen; Bryce Hegarty pen con). HT: 12-9