Brian Ashby: Crusaders continue to surprise

George Whitelock and Andy Ellis of Crusaders leaving the field after defeating Lions during the Super Rugby match between Lions and Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images.
George Whitelock and Andy Ellis of Crusaders leaving the field after defeating Lions during the Super Rugby match between Lions and Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images.

Confession time. I didn't for one minute think the Crusaders would beat the Lions last weekend.

An appalling error rate and the absence of skipper Kieran Read combined with the Lions significant home altitude advantage and a goal kicking sharp shooter in the shape of Marnitz Boshoff- this group of un-caped Crusaders weren't exactly looking like supermen heading into the match. But win it they did.

It wasn't the perfect performance, but then there's no such thing. Perhaps the 96-19 demolition of the Waratahs in 2002 was the closest thing I've seen to a flawless night out.

The Crusaders arguably more so an any other New Zealand franchise have a long history of embracing their South African roadie. They enjoy getting away from the NZ rugby bubble and they openly talk up their prospects. However, 2008 was the last time they had a 100% strike rate on their African sojourn.

The old cliche about Super Rugby not being won in February and March will always ring true. Written off early on, the Crusaders have traditionally always found ways to stride forth to the play-offs leaving the early season headline grabbers in their wake.

With the exception of the Chiefs, it's hard to make a call on the other New Zealand franchises. The Blues are showing signs of the speed wobbles, the Highlanders are a good watch and the Hurricanes- well, never really know what to expect there but the signs are encouraging.

Lets be honest: it's too early to know if the Crusaders win over the Lions was a season changer. If they can back-up with wins over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this week and cause a massive upset in Hamilton next week, then it's game on. But it's a massive ask.

On the plus side, inspirational skipper Kieran Read should be back on Sunday morning, but more importantly, the group has learned that they do have the ability and mental strength to overcome adversity and win without him.

Ryan Crotty is looking like a real leader, Andy Ellis has been in great form, and Israel Dagg has been doing his core roles well and is showing signs of breaking the shackles. The only certainty over the next crucial fortnight is that manicurists are set to do some serious business in Crusaders territory - fans fingernails will take a hammering.

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