Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders rusty but back on track

Crusaders team mates during round five Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Cheetahs. Photo / Getty Images.
Crusaders team mates during round five Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Cheetahs. Photo / Getty Images.

The Crusaders have played their first game in Christchurch for two years and now it's back to the departure lounge again as they consider two important games in South Africa.

Their 28-21 victory over the Cheetahs at Christchurch Stadium last night was rusty to say the least - coach Todd Blackadder said it looked as though they hadn't played for the last two weeks rather than having just one week off with a bye - but a long trip together could come at just the right time.

While their scrum was dominant until injuries to props Lourens Adriaanse and Trevor Nyakane made this set piece non-contestable in the second half, the lineout is one area of concern as they leave today for Johannesburg to play the Lions and a week later go to Pretoria to face the Bulls.

Another worry is a lack of penetration in the backs, although Dan Carter's return from injury in the second 40 minutes in Christchurch improved things in this area. Virtually his first touch of the ball was a pinpoint pass to allow centre Robbie Fruean to drift outside his marker and score and the All Blacks first-five's calmness was important as the Cheetahs fought back to 21-21 with 10 minutes left.

A try to Israel Dagg, back at fullback for the first time, sealed it with only minutes left.

"We can go to Africa now knowing we have a bit of work to do. We've got a win, we're back in the hunt," coach Todd Blackadder said. "Things are back to normal for us now. We can build on a strong performance, our scrum is back, we can do some tweaking with our lineout.

"It's come as a perfect time for us. We've got a captured audience, it's the first time we have really been away early on in the campaign and I think we really need it."

The Crusaders now have a 2-2 record for the season, but thanks to the bye (four points) and two losing bonus points they are on 14 competition points, which has them only fourth in the New Zealand conference - four points behind the Chiefs - but seventh on the overall table.

The Stormers lead the competition with 20 points and are the only unbeaten team following their round five 24-19 victory over the Lions in Johannesburg.

Dave Rennie's Chiefs moved to the top of the New Zealand conference thanks to their bye and the Brumbies' 33-26 defeat of the Highlanders in Canberra which saw first-five Colin Slade suffer a broken leg which will put him out for 12 months.

Losing Slade and flanker John Hardie to injury, plus their unbeaten record, will be tough for Jamie Joseph to swallow but the coach will be expecting a positive reaction in Invercargill next weekend against the Rebels, who broke a 12-match losing streak with their 30-29 victory over the Force.

In an anomalous result for the weekend, the Bulls thrashed the defending champion Reds 61-8 in Pretoria, the home side running in eight tries to demolish a team struggling with injuries. Centre and goalkicker Jono Lance is the latest casualty for the team from Brisbane.

"I think the break did us good," captain and No8 Pierre Spies said. "It was a hard two weeks coming off that loss to the Blues. I think the guys made it right tonight."

All of the other victories were by margins of seven points or fewer, with none tighter than the Hurricanes' last-gasp 26-25 win over the Blues at Eden Park.

All eyes were on former Hurricanes Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu during the build-up to the match, but it was Beauden Barrett who stole the show, making the run past Weepu and setting up Conrad Smith for a try in the dying seconds which he converted for the victory.

The Waratahs came from behind to beat the Sharks 34-30 in afternoon sunshine at the Sydney Football Stadium yesterday.

- APNZ

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