Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Nadolo hat-trick lights fire for Crusaders

Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders in action against the Cheetahs. Photo / Getty Images
Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders in action against the Cheetahs. Photo / Getty Images

Crusaders 52
Cheetahs 31

After struggling to get their attack going this season, the points came in an avalanche for the Crusaders this morning against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, the bonus point victory inspired by Colin Slade and helped by a Nemani Nadolo hat-trick.

It was a night of several firsts for Todd Blackadder's men. The coach has never presided over a clean sweep in South Africa, but the Crusaders did it in style at Free State Stadium after last week's win over the Lions in Johannesburg. It was their first win in the city since 2007.

They grabbed hold of the game early through their set piece dominance and defence, withstood a Cheetahs' comeback, and then finished convincingly over the top.

It was a match in which Nadolo, the giant Fijian wing, stamped his mark. He scored three second-half tries, his first for the Crusaders, and looks set for a long stint in the No11 jersey.

It was the first time this season that the Crusaders have scored a bonus point for scoring four or more tries - they finished with six - and the first time Slade has played with such authority since his return from the Highlanders.

Lock Sam Whitelock was a stand-out all over the park, flanker Matt Todd excellent in the loose and young prop Nepo Laulala, in his first start, a minor revelation in the front row.

There were wobbles. The Cheetahs, fresh from their stunning 43-all draw against the Chiefs on this ground, found their free-running groove on the 50th minute mark when scoring three converted tries through Sarel Pretorius, Teboho Mohoje and Willie le Roux in the space of nine minutes. It was a crazy period of the match when the Crusaders couldn't get their hands on the ball.

But while the home side's attacking instincts can't be denied, their defence lived up to its reputation too. With the Crusaders down 31-33, Tom Taylor, Nadolo, Slade and Nadolo again scored the tries which took the game away from them.

The big victory rockets the Crusaders from 13th to seventh. They are third in the New Zealand conference on 18 points behind the Chiefs (24) and Highlanders (19). The Highlanders have the bye next weekend, but the Crusaders must travel home to face the Chiefs in Hamilton. This win will make that trip a lot easier.

Kieran Read, back at No8 after his week off with concussion, engineered Nadolo's first try with a typical straight run and lobbed pass after Dagg had replied to the Cheetahs' early try from wing Cornal Hendricks.

"We showed what we can do when we're on attack,'' Read said. "We've just got to build from here.

"It came down to moments of brilliance from a few guys.''

Todd showed superb vision to grubber kick from 25m out to set up Dagg's try and the loose forward was at the forefront of the Crusaders' response in the second half when getting close to the line and popping up the pass for replacement midfielder Taylor.
It was Slade, though, who really caught the eye.

His goalkicking was excellent - eight from 10 - and his quick penalty tap on defence, powerful run up the middle and wide pass to Nadolo, blindsided the Cheetahs.

Slade's pace was to the fore again on the right-hand side when he picked up a loose ball and ran over untouched.

Nadolo's third try came in the final minute as the Cheetahs chased a second bonus point. Picking up a loose ball, the big wing shrugged off a defender and went over from 50m out.
Blackadder had promised a new, free-running style, but no one expected this.

Crusaders 52 (Nemani Nadolo 3, Israel Dagg, Tom Taylor, Colin Slade tries; Colin Slade 4 pens, 4 cons, Tyler Bleyendaal con)
Cheetahs 31 (Cornal Hendricks, Sarel Pretorius, Teboho Mohoje, Willie le Roux tries; Elgar Watts 4 cons, pen)
Halftime: 19-10

- APNZ

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