Rugby: Crusaders crumble in Perth

By Kris Shannon

Force players celebrate their victory over the Crusaders following a farcical finish in Perth. Photo / Getty Images
Force players celebrate their victory over the Crusaders following a farcical finish in Perth. Photo / Getty Images

The Crusaders were due to fly out of Perth two hours after their defeat to the Western Force - and the visitors played like they had a plane to catch.

A three-match Super Rugby road trip which began so promisingly ended with a second straight defeat at nib Stadium early this morning, consigning the Crusaders to fourth in the New Zealand conference and eighth overall.

The Force were good value for their 16-14 win, their second from eight games this season, but the hosts were helped by a flat, error-prone display from the Crusaders.

Having beaten the Stormers in South Africa last month to begin their overseas jaunt, the Crusaders will be left to rue letting games slip against the Sharks and the Force. The red and blacks could have still pulled a result from the fire but a combination of a fierce Force defence and exactly the opposite from local security ensured the hosts held on for a two-point victory.

The match descended into farce in the final 10 minutes when, having already seen two pitch invaders, three more men - including one dressed in a banana costume - were allowed to run rampant at the exact moment the Crusaders were set to launch a counter-attack.

With stadium security asleep at the wheel, Ryan Crotty upended one of the intruders while forwards coach Dave Hewett also got in the action with a fine hit on another. The prolonged stoppage quelled any momentum the Crusaders had accrued but the visitors had only themselves to blame for earning nothing more than a bonus point.

"We had the ball and we coughed it up at vital times, and at key moments we couldn't maintain pressure," said coach Todd Blackadder. "We let ourselves down and we let them off the hook."

The Force have been something of a bogey side for the Crusaders and, coming into tonight, the seven-time champions had won only once from four matches in Perth. But Blackadder said there were no suggestions his side had underestimated the Western Australians.

"We actually prepared really well and we have no excuses. We're not going to say that we took them lightly or anything - we certainly didn't.

"We knew this was a big game for us, it was crucial and we didn't play that well. They obviously played better than us and we just made too many basic errors."

The Crusaders were perhaps lucky to go into halftime trailing only 16-8, given the disjointed nature of their attack. Luke Romano finished off a marauding run from Corey Flynn down the left flank to cancel out Sam Norton-Knight's early effort for the Force, while former Hurricane Jayden Hayward banged over three penalties for the hosts.

Romano did have another try ruled out by the TMO after a forward pass in the build-up, but Blackadder and co cut rather unhappy figures when they exited the coaches' box at halftime.

"Execution errors usually come from an average mindset so I wasn't pleased with the first half," Blackadder said.

The Crusaders' attack did apply themselves better to open the second spell, putting together a number of phases before eventually settling for a penalty from Tyler Bleyendaal to reduce the gap to five. Romano was then again denied by the TMO when he replays of his grounding were inconclusive, with the Crusaders forced to be content with another penalty.

The visitors huffed and puffed for the final 20 minutes but the resolute Force stood firm - aided by a few of the home fans.

"It was obviously a really key moment, too," Blackadder said of the final invasion. "We got a turnover and we would have counter-attacked and it was about five-on-one.

"It's poor - it shouldn't happen at this level. The crowd needs to be far more disciplined. It ruined a good game of footy."

The Crusaders will now be pleased to return to Christchurch and they will be equally happy to host the hapless Highlanders next Saturday.

"We need to get our house in order," Blackadder said. "We need to start playing some rugby where we can maintain the ball and stop making basic errors or else we're not going to be beating anyone."

- APNZ

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