Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crotty backs big boys to nullify opposition

Ryan Crotty of the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images
Ryan Crotty of the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images

It ended in failure but the Brumbies' efforts in their semifinal against the Waratahs in Sydney have provided the Crusaders with plenty of encouragement.

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The Brumbies' forwards put the Waratahs under immense pressure at times, and while the 26-8 final score looks clear-cut, the Sydney-siders scored 10 points in the final eight minutes to skew it slightly. At 16-8 and the Brumbies perhaps unlucky not to get a few decisions go their way as they camped on the home side's line with 10 minutes remaining, the match was in the balance.

That means the Crusaders will feel justified in playing to their strengths, just as they did in their commanding semifinal victory over the Sharks. In that match in Christchurch, the Sharks had no answer to a pack which featured eight All Blacks, the visitors being cleaned up in the scrums, lineouts, and driving mauls.

Centre Ryan Crotty, who is likely to play a big role on defence against the likes of Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau, said yesterday the Crusaders' pack again held the key to neutralising the opposition's attack.

"If you can stop it at source - set piece - you're going to go pretty well, so we'll be backing our big boys to disrupt their set piece.

"If they do get good ball then it's about trusting your systems, your execution on your tackles and your reads on defence - nothing too different to any other team we've played, but, yes, they do like to run with the ball and we've prepared well for that."

Asked about the lessons learned from the Brumbies' performances in putting pressure on the Waratahs' pack, which took space away from Folau and his fellow strike weapons, Crotty said: "It was what the Brumbies didn't quite do - the opportunities that they had, the reasons why they couldn't execute them. They were pretty unlucky, they played a lot of good footy but sometimes those last passes weren't sticking or they weren't deep enough to get the ball to the space, and it cost them. They were turned over and the Waratahs pounced.

"We have to make sure we look after the ball and know the threat the Waratahs are on turnover ball."

Crotty captained the Crusaders in Kieran Read's injury-enforced absence this season, the 25-year-old a consistently high performer in a backline which hasn't always been as settled as it looks now.

The solidity of Colin Slade at first-five has made a difference, as has the form of fullback Israel Dagg and return of Dan Carter, who is playing well at second-five. Andy Ellis was a key performer at halfback against the Sharks, with Kieron Fonotia and Nemani Nadolo two bruising wings.

Being able to change the point of attack through Slade, Carter, Dagg and even Crotty at first receiver makes things more difficult for opposition defences and having the hulking Nadolo to create or finish chances has added a new dynamic.

- APNZ

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