Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Catalyst Slade sets up big win


But Blues miss Eden Park comfort zone.

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

The Crusaders turned in easily the most impressive performance out of any of side over the weekend in their big win over the Reds.

It was clinical, dynamic and full of energy. You could see it whether chasing kicks, hitting rucks or breakdowns, or defensively.

For me, the significant turnaround for the Crusaders has been Colin Slade. Last night he was simply outstanding. Defensively he was knocking players over and he was getting up and attacking the line as a real threat with ball in hand. He completely outplayed Quade Cooper and has been the catalyst for the Crusaders' change of fortune.

The first game of the weekend was the one everyone was excited about. I have friends in Queenstown in various picking competitions texting me about who was going to win. That hasn't happened all season and shows how close it promised to be.

The Blues were the form team and I thought they would perform well even though it wasn't at Eden Park.

That expectation wasn't fulfilled. They started well but once the Chiefs pulled their sleeves up it was a one-sided affair. I wouldn't say it was a letdown because if you are a Chiefs fan you'd be pleased, but I felt a bit flat watching it because the Chiefs were so dominant. The future looks good for them; they have players to come back and an attitude which suggests they are a championship team.

If you are a Blues fan you'd feel a bit aggrieved. There's been a lot said about the Blues' away form. I don't agree it's a coaching problem. If you're going to criticise John Kirwan you have to criticise Graham Henry and Mick Byrne as well and these guys have been the backbone of what has made the All Blacks so successful over the last decade.

The coaches aren't responsible for players dropping the ball and making poor decisions and not performing to their potential away from their comfort zone, which is Eden Park.

I don't think the Blues have enough experience in their ranks. They do up front, but in their backline, with Piri Weepu out, they have no one apart from Ma'a Nonu and he is stepping up.

The rest of them haven't quite grasped it. I just wonder if they're guilty of inexperience and a lack of leadership rather than poor coaching.

Now for the Hurricanes. I could see in Conrad Smith's body language during his interview after the victory over the Rebels that he enjoyed that win more than any other this year. This was a game that in the past the Hurricanes would have lost, I have no doubt about it. They would have got so much out of this performance, more so than had they scored a lot of tries and played to their potential.

They knuckled down and showed some grit and determination. The Chiefs are showing that this year, as have the All Blacks in recent years.

Great teams win games when they're probably not the best team on the day. That's something the Hurricanes have never done and that's a massive corner for them to turn.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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