Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders win but not content to sit on laurels

Israel Dagg rediscovered his mojo against the Chiefs on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images
Israel Dagg rediscovered his mojo against the Chiefs on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images

A performance to celebrate - and there was plenty of toasting in the changing rooms afterwards, including for centre Robbie Fruean, who had heart surgery during the week - but the Crusaders have quickly put their stunning victory over the Chiefs in its place.

Coach Todd Blackadder said while he was overjoyed at the way his team played with an intensity and attacking flair unseen this season before Friday night's match in Christchurch, it won't necessarily be suitable as a benchmark. An upward trend is still required. Now is not the time to stop and reflect.

Secure in the top six, the Crusaders need only beat the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium on Friday in order to qualify fourth - at worst - and host a sudden-death qualifier match a week later.

"We've learned a lot along the way this year," Blackadder said yesterday. "That match is probably the first time we've managed to execute that game plan."

Said game plan was under fire earlier in the season for being too lateral but the Crusaders showed in their 43-15, five-tries-to-two victory that, when they put all the elements together, it is a hard one for the opposition to combat. The Chiefs had few answers to the fire of the forwards or the wave upon wave of attacks from the home side's back division led expertly by Dan Carter, a general who had a worthy lieutenant in fullback Israel Dagg. As Blackadder said, All Black Dagg definitely has his mojo back.

The lift in intensity was partly due to the respect the Crusaders have for the defending champion Chiefs, who beat them fairly convincingly in Hamilton in May. The challenge for Blackadder's men will be to step it up from here.

Dave Rennie called the performance by his men "embarrassing", adding they were "outplayed, out-passioned and out-coached".

While they should hold on to their top spot in the New Zealand conference - they need only one competition point against the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday to seal it - the strange collapse in Christchurch has put their top spot overall in serious threat. The Bulls and Brumbies will feel like the Crusaders have done them a huge favour.

The Chiefs simply weren't at the races. They made silly decisions at the breakdown and referee Jonathon White made them pay dearly.

Rennie's men were similarly punished during their two-game tour of South Africa this season - something the coach was worried about - but his side have managed to stay on the right side of the referees since.

It appears their luck has ran out.

Prop Ben Tameifuna was issued with an off-field yellow card for putting his hands on opposite Wyatt Crockett's face and "eye area" during a ruck and the daft behaviour didn't end there.

Sam Cane, not quite on his game in a beaten pack, threw Carter to the ground while offside; fullback Robbie Robinson tried to run the ball from his own line late in the first half only to concede the scrum from which Kieran Read scored his first try; wing Aseali Tikoirotuma coughed up possession too easily.

Blackadder said he didn't feel the Chiefs were quite there mentally, something with which Rennie would wholeheartedly agree.

The only positive Rennie could find from the match was the performance of replacement Andrew Horrell when he joined the action late in the second half. He could have added that lock Brodie Retallick stayed in the fight until the end.

The only negative for Blackadder was the high ankle sprain to lock Luke Romano which is likely to rule him out of the Hurricanes match.

- Herald on Sunday

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