Richard Loe on rugby
Richard Loe is a former All Black

Richard Loe: Crusaders look a bit fragile despite eventual victory

Stefan Terblanche. Photo / Getty Images
Stefan Terblanche. Photo / Getty Images

It's only early days in the Super 14 but the Crusaders look a little worrying - even after that 35-6 win over the Sharks on Friday night.

Their loss to the Reds in the previous round raised eyebrows and even though they won well in the end against the Sharks, I thought they looked a bit fragile.

They are not looking all that convincing up front although Brad Thorn and Richie McCaw are not properly into stride yet.

The Crusaders committed only the tackler and one other to most of the rucks and bulked up the defence. That worked well and they finished strongly - but that approach might struggle against better sides.

The Sharks were pretty ordinary. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis is a good player, loose forward Ryan Kankowski showed flashes and halfback Rory Kockott stood out - but, beyond second-five, their best player was 34-year-old fullback Stefan Terblanche and they basically offered little or no attacking threat.

So the Crusaders didn't beat all that much. While they will be boosted by the win, they may have to look at their game plan for bigger fish.

Part of the problem was the scrums where the referee seemed to be tossing a coin over who to penalise, John Smit or Wyatt Crockett.

Neither player has a correct technique and that didn't help but the referee seemed to be handing the penalties out either way.

It didn't help the game or the forward contest although I like the fact that refs are letting ball get cleared from the No 8's feet when, last year, the scrum would have been blown up and re-set. That's helping the flow.

Talking about Smit, I think we could be seeing the end of him as a top line player. He looks as though he is on an Ollie Le Roux diet. While he had a superb Super 14 a couple of years ago and led South Africa to that World Cup win, he seems not at that level any more.

For a lot of professional players, the temptation to stick around is strong. It's the pull of the dollar.

Smit is still captain of the Springboks and will be on a pretty penny - so he can hang around home without having to go to Europe. Players like that just tend to hang in there. Maybe he will get better as as the bigger Super and international matches beckon.

For the Crusaders, Owen Franks had a good game as an impact player, the Whitelock brothers, especially Adam, did well, as did Ryan Crotty. Winger Zac Guildford was the most dangerous player on show.

There's no doubt the refs are trying hard to let the ball get recycled at the tackled ball area. However, it still all comes down to interpretation.

It's still a grey area and early days. While I agree with the intent of loosening up the defences, it did not really work against the Crusaders, who just stacked their defence against a lacklustre Sharks attack.

- Herald on Sunday

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