Where has Crusaders' try-scoring ability gone?

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 28/03/2014
Ryan Crotty
JOSEPH JOHNSON/Fairfax NZ
EXAMINATON: Ryan Crotty is taking a hard look at why the Crusaders haven't been able to score tries.

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Six tries in four matches. It's a grotesque statistic the Crusaders won't like to be reminded of.

Given they have the worst try-scoring record in Super Rugby it's no wonder Ryan Crotty says the Crusaders ran a magnifying glass over their listless attack during the bye week.

"We have looked at having more of a dig within our structures - rather than waiting for our structure to do it for us," Crusaders centre Crotty explained.

"Sometimes it will be about straight alignments, sometimes it will be about picking straight mismatches [against slower forwards]."

In other words they have to work harder to invigorate their offence.

First things first: the Crusaders just need to beat the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium tonight.

If they don't they will be thankful they fly to South Africa tomorrow morning because the resulting firestorm will probably chase them out over the Indian Ocean.

Given the way the Hurricanes are travelling, they are 1-4 and looked woeful for much of last weekend's defeat to the Highlanders, the Crusaders (2-2) are favoured to win.

What we want to see, almost as much as a much-needed victory to calm the nerves, is the Crusaders backline run straight and create doubt in the defence.

They can do anything they want from there; have support runners charging in on angles, pop short balls, or unload in the tackle.

Irate coaches often mutter that scoring tries isn't everything and the Crusaders could note the Blues and the Hurricanes, the leading try scorers on 17 and 16, are hardly tearing the competition apart.

The Sharks, the overall log leaders, are on 13 and the Chiefs 10.

But the official Sanzar website shows the Crusaders' unconvincing attack has only produced 17 clean breaks - just two more than the Lions who are last in this area.

Selection changes in the opening rounds reflected coach Todd Blackadder's frustration at the slow start and poor performances by centre Reynold Lee-Lo, voted the Hurricanes' best player by his team-mates last year, didn't help.

"We have had a lot of guys still finding their feet, new guys trying to find their place in the system," Crotty added.

"We have been improving each week and I think there are areas of our game that can be better utilised to shape backlines a little bit better."

Short kicks in behind enemy backlines are repugnant to some coaches, and no doubt the forwards who have fought so hard for possession, because giving away the ball is unacceptable.

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But if the Hurricanes' utilise a blitz or out-to-in defensive system, first five-eighth Colin Slade may be tempted to get the ball in behind their backs.

That may result in the Crusaders' chasers regathering possession from the surprise tactic or, at least, it would encourage their wings Julian Savea and Alapati Leiua to hold back and allow the Crusaders more space on the fringes.

Last weekend the Highlanders cleverly used halfback Aaron Smith to launch contestable box kicks and the Crusaders will have noted how the Hurricanes' struggled to kick their way out of their own half.

"We looked at that, at where the Highlanders were effective - at what they did really well," Blackadder acknowledged. "We have had a pretty good look and put together a game plan."

- Fairfax Media

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