Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Milestone for Crusaders as they bounce back against Lions

Israel Dagg of the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images
Israel Dagg of the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images

Crusaders 28
Lions 7


After a lacklustre start to the season, including two defeats at home, the Crusaders have at last set a record for the right reasons - in beating the Lions in Johannesburg this morning they have become the first New Zealand team to win in South Africa this season.

First Take: Crusaders attack lacking in win

In doing something the Hurricanes, Blues and Chiefs weren't able to do, the Crusaders will feel a lot more positive than after their loss to Mark Hammett's men in Christchurch last weekend.

They scored three tries to one, but the foundations of this win were built in the first half when they suffocated the Lions, forcing the home side to play in their own half and attempt the risky stuff they do not have the personnel to pull off.

After close wins over the Stormers and Rebels, this was the Crusaders' most convincing of the season.

``They dominated us at set piece ... they put us under immense pressure,'' captain Warren Whiteley said afterwards.

Andy Ellis was a driving force, the halfback putting his body in dangerous positions in order to get his team home. He scored a deserved try from broken play, putting a fend on excellent No8 Whiteley to go over and effectively seal it.

Ryan Crotty, the captain in the absence of the injured Kieran Read, was the other backline standout. He showed pace and power during his 40m run to score his team's first try and should have been awarded a second but for a bizarre decision by referee Marius van der Westhuizen, who signalled that Crotty had scored in the tackle of Whiteley and flanker Jaco Kriel, only to ask his television match official to review the grounding as Colin Slade prepared to take the conversion.

It came with the score at 13-7; the Crusaders winning a penalty from the attacking scrum and Ellis' try later putting them out of danger, but a defeat after that would have been highly controversial.

Centre Kieron Fonotia scored his team's third try with minutes remaining from a pinpoint grubber by Israel Dagg.

The victory pushes the Crusaders up one place to 12th but the competition remains tight due to the constant surprising results; the Chiefs' comeback 43-43 draw with the Cheetahs earlier today, following their draw against the Bulls last weekend, a case in point. With 13 competition points the Crusaders are seven behind New Zealand conference leaders the Chiefs.

It was clear that the Crusaders went into the game with a conservative plan to kick for territory and, while not pretty, it was effective. Johnny McNicholl, who went close to scoring straight after the break but lost the ball near the line, put pressure on with his chase game, with wing teammate Nemani Nadolo was also used mainly in that role.

With the Lions, traditionally excellent at the set piece, losing four lineouts in the first half due to the pressure put on Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird, the Crusaders had every reason to continue kicking. It was only once the Lions' rolling maul began working that they looked threatening, but halfback Francois de Klerk and first-five Marnitz Boshoff rarely looked dangerous around the fringes. When the Crusaders were forced to scramble on their line they did it well _ the Lions lacking the patience to make the visitors pay.

The challenge for Todd Blackadder and Co will be to back it up next weekend against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Another win, no matter how it is achieved, will build their momentum another notch or two.

Crusaders 28 (Ryan Crotty, Andy Ellis, Kieron Fonotia tries; Colin Slade 2 pens, con, Israel Dagg pen, Tyler Bleyendaal con)
Lions 7 (Lionel Mapoe try; Marnitz Boshoff con)
Halftime: 6-0

- APNZ

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