Rugby: Crusaders add to New Zealand's woe

By Wynne Gray

Richie McCaw and his team will have to dig deep this Saturday when they face the Bulls in Pretoria. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw and his team will have to dig deep this Saturday when they face the Bulls in Pretoria. Photo / Getty Images

The Crusaders face a massive scrap to maintain their remarkable Super 14 record.

They played with much greater starch against the Stormers on Saturday, but are staring at three straight losses when they meet the Bulls this weekend.

Defeat in Pretoria would threaten the Crusaders' unbroken run of eight playoff appearances since 2002 when they climbed from the canvas of the previous season to take another title.

The sloppy 16-24 loss to the Force at the start of this roadtrip will be looking doubly painful for the Crusaders after they were clubbed 42-14 by the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday. That will also be another disconcerting note for the All Black selectors.

The entire Crusaders' pack has played for the All Blacks, but they were bludgeoned by their hosts and savaged by referee Stu Dickinson. Behind those troubles, international five-eighths Daniel Carter played with a continued lack of clout and control.

Victory for the Stormers gave them a clean sweep against New Zealand teams this year and will have recalibrated thoughts of many looking for clues towards the impending Tri-Nations internationals.

It may also have complicated selection ideas for Springbok coach Peter de Villiers as Schalk Burger is the only regular test player wearing Stormers colours.

The bulk of de Villiers' test forwards are clad in the faded navy uniform of the Bulls and this Saturday at Loftus Versfeld, they will want to show they have as much sting as the men from the Cape.

Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Pierre Spies and Gurthro Steenkamp are seasoned Springbok forwards while Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann and Pedrie Wannenburg are others in the frame for test colours.

They have combined to take the Bulls to a sequence of 17 successive victories at Loftus under the stewardship of class halfback Fourie du Preez while goalkicking five-eighths Morne Steyn has claimed 194 points this season.

The assignment will test every ounce of the Crusaders' resilience, every piece of coach Todd Blackadder's strategies and every inch of class from skipper Richie McCaw and his men.

They failed to deal with the heat generated by the Stormers on Saturday. Referee Stu Dickinson penalised them severely and eventually lost patience and sinbinned Kieran Read.

"Right from the get-go we were on the wrong side of the referee's decisions at the breakdown and it didn't change for the entire 80 minutes," Blackadder lamented.

For the third straight game the Crusaders were punished at the tackle, rucks and mauls while they were also put under immense lineout strain by Andries Bekker.

It was no way for McCaw to mark his 100th game for the Crusaders and a pointed spectacle for the All Black selectors as they sift their choices for test squad selection.

They may have to hurry because there are signs that this year could be 2001 all over again - that sorry season was the only time that all New Zealand sides have missed the Super 14 playoffs.

Victorious Stormers captain Burger was too savvy to get into any of those predictions or to write off the Crusaders.

"Those first 40 minutes were as close to test rugby as I've felt at this level," he said. "But the wheel turns quickly so I'm not going to say anything big."

He didn't have to. The 42-14 scoreline beaming from the Newlands scoreboard looked ominously huge.

- NZ Herald

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