Fumbling Crusaders downed by Hurricanes
Hurricanes spoil Kieran Read's 100th Super Rugby matchMATT MARKHAM
It might be a good thing that the Crusaders jumped on a plane in the early hours of this morning for South Africa.
Their departure will save them from having to witness the likely backlash to what was yet again another below-par performance at AMI Stadium last night.
"I'm sick of paying money to watch these guys pretend to be rugby players," was the remark of one punter as he walked out and the harsh reality is he wasn't the only one muttering under his breath upon departure, after watching the Hurricanes spoil Kieran Read's 100th Super Rugby match party by beating the Crusaders 29-26.
Fans of the once mighty franchise are growing increasingly concerned.
Despite being heralded as one of the easybeats in the competition, the Hurricanes were far from it as they strategically dismantled the Crusaders.
The home side will once again rue missed opportunities and poor decision making which all ultimately led to their downfall, as they head to South Africa with a two-win, three-loss record and in desperate need of a quick turnaround.
To add salt to the wound, they board a plane for South Africa with concerns over both Read and Luke Romano, who left the game early in the first half with injuries.
Read lasted just 25 minutes in his 100th match, which he won't remember fondly on any count, though the outlook for captain was more positive post-match. He was taken off for precautionary measures after a head knock, despite initial reports of an ankle injury.
A nasty calf injury to lock Romano was more concerning and he was not expected to board the plane today, a worry for team management who have plenty of other issues to ponder, too.
The usual spark that fires the red and blacks into action when the backs are against the wall doesn't appear to be there and those moments of brilliance which often dig good sides out of dark holes are floating around somewhere back in 2010.
On more than one occasion the Crusaders had the opportunity to close the game out.
The lead chopped and changed throughout the match and even if they didn't deserve to be in a position to win in the final stages, the Crusaders were.
Yet rushed passes and some poor decision making proved their downfall again and Todd Blackadder must be tearing what is left of those silver locks out in frustration.
Sure, there were moments of brilliance - a double from Johnny McNicholl shone like a beacon - and the Hurricanes played a like a side well above their current standing in the competition.
Wing Alapati Leiua's match-winning try with five minutes remaining, when he skipped down the sideline, was breath-taking.
But the Crusaders are struggling and their defence on the outside was found wanting.
"It's not one person making mistakes all the time," halfback Andy Ellis said after last night's match.
"It's a lot of us making simple, silly mistakes at crucial times that is costing us.
"Sure we are frustrated by it and we have been trying to get it sorted, but for some reason things just aren't going our way."
Getting the answers won't be simple, but a long flight to South Africa should give the side plenty of time to try and figure out how to lift their season out of the doldrums.
The Crusaders are perennial bad starters, but with just two wins from their opening five matches and a tour of South Africa in front of them, the mountain ahead is a tall one.
Hurricanes 29 (Faifili Levave, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea, Alapati Leiua tries, Beauden Barrett 3 cons, pen) Crusaders 26 (Johnny McNicholl 2, Colin Slade tries, Tom Taylor 3 pens, con). HT: 17-18
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