Bloemfontein contest shapes as tactical battle

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 12/04/2014
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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Two weeks in South Africa and the Crusaders are talking like pragmatic Afrikaners.

Historically South African rugby teams, especially those from the Afrikaner strongholds on the high veldt, have been tagged as neo-conservatives that lean on uncomplicated game plans obsessed with possession, winning territory and earning penalties.

A reversal in roles appears imminent in Bloemfontein tomorrow.

The Cheetahs are expected to be the ones launching adventurous attacks while the Crusaders, who in past years have prided themselves as being one of Super Rugby's entertainers, are going to lean towards a cat-and-mouse strategy at Free State Stadium.

Last week the Crusaders earned their 28-7 win over the Lions by refusing to play inside their own half and only mounting raids when they were safely out of the kicking range of Marnitz Boshoff.

With his side needing a win to keep in touch with the log leaders, second five-eighth Ryan Crotty said the Crusaders can't afford to be too adventurous.

"We know we want to play the territory game and teams that play smart are the ones that win the game."

The Crusaders scored three tries against the Lions, often keeping their opponents locked in their own half and then using a rugged defence and superior set piece to force errors.

Even though they boast one of the competition's best counter-attackers in Israel Dagg - when he is in form - the visitors are prepared to leave it to the Cheetahs, one of the most attacking teams in the comp, to make the unpredictable moves and see where that gets them.

Crotty reiterated that the Crusaders' belief in the conservative game plan deserves respect and maintained there will still be chances to launch strikes in Bloemfontein.

"We still created chances to score off their [the Lions'] mistakes and things like that," Crotty insisted.

"With the Cheetahs being a team that like to play from deep within their own half we can again look to force them into mistakes and capitalise on those.

"We still have the freedom but we just have to make good decisions around it."

The Crusaders' attitude is a two-fingered salute to the mantra New Zealanders are more attack-happy than their South African counterparts.

Their response to criticism will be to point at their precarious 12th placing on the competition table.

A win is vital if they are to remain in touch with the log leaders, especially as they meet the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium a week later.

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The Crusaders' attitude is similar to the one they adopted in 2009; a poor start resulted in them stripping back their game plan to the bone and they ground out enough wins to qualify for the playoffs.

Assistant coach Aaron Mauger also expects his side's game plan to limit the Cheetahs' attack.

"We held the ball for longer last week when we did have it, we kicked really smart and didn't give the Lions guys opportunities to have a free counter attack or a free kick back at us," Mauger noted.

"So it will be fairly similar this week, making sure that when they do have the ball we are able to shut them down and take away their time."

- The Press

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