Crusaders still a force and unruffled by change


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The Crusaders showed they remain a force to be reckoned with as they began life without Robbie Deans and Dan Carter by beating the Chiefs 19-13 on Saturday.

Despite the closeness of the score, the Crusaders were never behind in their opening round Super 14 match, and there was a familiar pattern to their play.

The standard-bearers of New Zealand rugby soaked up the best a fired up Chiefs could throw at them in the second half and then came back to put the result beyond doubt with a try in the 80th minute.

The Chiefs, with a reputation for being slow starters and under-achievers, have nevertheless been the Crusaders’ bogey team in recent years, winning their last two matches.

And after turning 5-14 down at half-time and narrowing the gap to 13-14 with 20 minutes remaining they had reason to feel they could make it three in a row.

But when the pressure was on, the Crusaders came up with a try to answer questions about how the most successful team in Super rugby would fare with All Blacks flyhalf Carter unavailable and coach Deans now in Australia.

The Crusaders scored three tries to two, and while it was not champagne rugby, with the high-paced game marred by early season handling errors, Crusaders captain Richie McCaw was “pretty happy” with the outcome.

“Obviously, the first game of the season you don’t expect it to be perfect but we had our opportunities and we took them,” he said.

“What you’ve got to do in games like that, when you get the opportunities especially when it’s close, is close them out so I’m pretty happy with that.”

Casey Laulala was the standout performer for the Crusaders with the former All Blacks centre scoring the first and last tries of the match and generally making life difficult for incumbent All Black Richard Kahui.

The Chiefs threatened at the base of the pack where Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer and Sione Lauaki proved a formidable trio and halfback Brendon Leonard was a constant danger with probing runs around the side of the ruck.

In the clash of the flyhalves, a focus of New Zealand rugby this year with Carter injured, rising Crusaders pivot Colin Slade held an edge over All Black Stephen Donald although both suffered with their tactical kicking.

Donald was fortuitously rewarded for one wayward clearing kick which looked to be a gift for the Crusaders until it bounced backwards and sideways into the arms of Lelia Masaga who ran 50 metres to put Richard Kahui over in the corner.

Slade was also rewarded with a delicate chip kick to put Laulala in for the first of his tries. Tim Bateman scored for the Crusaders from an 80-metre solo run and Slade added two conversions.

Kahui and Leila Masaga scored for the Chiefs with Donald landing one penalty.


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