First-five Colin Slade stars in impressive victory
They must still be cursing Colin Slade in Bloemfontein.
Left wing Nemani Nadolo received the ultimate compliment from his team-mates, who voted him their player of the day for scoring a hat-trick of tries, but it was first five-eighth Slade who crushed the Cheetahs' resolve.
Slade bagged 25 points by kicking four penalties, four conversions - he missed just two shots at goal - and scoring a try, yet it was his penalty-tap in the 68th minute that created the major momentum shift in the Crusaders' 52-31 victory.
Rather than boot a penalty into touch, Slade, sensing the Cheetahs were vulnerable, grabbed the pill, accelerated through the dozing defence and fired a long pass to Nadolo for the left wing to score a try to complete the 65m movement.
"What I really enjoyed about that was he [Slade] just backed himself and Nemani, who was about 20m away on the sideline, just went for it," coach Todd Blackadder said. "It was a real game changer."
Blackadder must have been tempted to rush out of the coach's box and smack a kiss on Slade's bandaged head.
Nadolo's first try after halftime, following a fine pass from Kieran Read, pushed the Crusaders ahead 26-10 before the Cheetahs countered with converted tries to Sarel Pretorius, Teboho Mohoje, Willie le Roux in nine minutes to lead 31-26.
Replacement back Tom Taylor's five-pointer, followed by Slade's conversion, gave the Crusaders back the lead but the tourists badly needed the latter's quick-witted actions to extinguish the Cheetahs' fight back.
"You can really feel his presence and impact on the game," Blackadder said in reference to Slade. "Certainly tonight was his best performance by a mile."
Slade later gave All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who won't have Dan Carter (and must hope Aaron Cruden recovers from a fractured thumb) for the June series against England, another reminder of his skills when he accepted a Read pass from a turnover and galloped in for a late long-range try.
Nadolo had to do the most work when he collected a loose ball after the fulltime hooter and sprinted 60m, beating second-five Rayno Benjamin along the way.
But Blackadder was most satisfied with the way captain Read urged his side not to capitulate after they conceded 21 points.
"It all started when the boys were under the posts and under the pump. That's when you have to really show your resolve and the belief had to really kick in."
- The Press
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