Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: The Crusaders are back

Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders runs the ball during the round five Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images.
Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders runs the ball during the round five Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images.

Crusaders 41
Bulls 19

There is no doubt now, not a hint of ambiguity - the Crusaders are back.

Scrub what they did in previous weeks: that wasn't them. That placid rugby was not what they are all about.

The old Crusaders are back, the proper version, but with a new twist. The Bulls were destroyed in the scrum, disrupted at the lineout and then whacked off the ball at the breakdown.

Their tired legs were also forced to cover an inordinate amount of ground to close down a Crusaders team that finally started to deliver much of what they promised
preseason.

The ebb and flow of the Crusaders was relentless. The ball kept appearing at the base of rucks and would be shipped one way then the next - the support always there, the Bulls
stretched and stretched until everyone could see they would have to break at some stage.

The Crusaders can fret less about their attacking game - no one is going to be able
to live with them if they can tidy their execution to match their endeavour.

The intensity was the big difference. The Crusaders had looked strangely flat in their opening games - almost as if they were pacing themselves.

There was none of that tonight. The forwards upped their work-rate to a man.

Kieran Read charged into everything and was always available. Sam Whitelock made himself available to good effect in the wider reaches and Dominic Bird was aggressive at the lineout, challenging well for the ball in the air which prevented the Bulls from getting much mileage out of their vaunted rolling maul.

The scrum was almost unrecognisable - low, firm, dynamic and too much for the Bulls.

They felt the pressure there and it seeped through the ranks. Left them short of confidence in the tackled ball where they were unable to compete or even do much to slow down the speed of the Crusaders' recycle.

The visitors can consider themselves fortunate that the Crusaders were guilty of some amateur handling in the first 20 minutes. They had all the right ideas but they couldn't
build the pressure because they couldn't hold the ball. Robbie Fruean had a horrid beginning where he couldn't catch or pass and as the frustration built, the Crusaders
pushed more risky passes and made more mistakes. It took a little magic moment from Israel Dagg to turn things.

The fullback, maybe a little quiet in previous weeks, came to life. He played at first and second receiver, appeared out wide, mopped up the inevitable bombs and then managed
to offload close to the line out of a melee of bodies that enabled Daniel Carter to put Fruean over from close range.

That settled everyone - particularly Fruean who came into the game more and had a bigger impact and better work-rate than he's had in an age. From there, it was really all
Crusaders.

They had all the ball, played all the rugby and would have clocked a serious amount of points but for those nagging mistakes they couldn't quite eliminate.

Tom Marshall was deadly on the wing and gave the Crusaders a thrust and directness they have been missing. Dan Carter was effortless - he just kept the ball moving, moving,
moving and knocked over his kicks.

By 50 minutes, the Bulls were properly stuffed. They knew they were never going to win, or probably even get close enough to win a bonus point. They kind of knew they would
be lucky to score a try - which they only managed after the Crusaders had emptied their bench.

And with the bench on, the Crusaders cooled off. Were happy to let the visitors pound around the 10 metre line but they couldn't get much further than that.

Crusaders 41 (R. Fruean, K. Read, J. McNicholl, T. Marshall, W. Crockett, W. Heinz tries; D. Carter 4 cons, pen)

Bulls 19 (D. Stegmann try; M. Steyn con, 4 pens).

- Herald on Sunday

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