Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Crusaders sharper for semi

NZ giants suffered shock loss to Sharks in pool play but look in better shape for rematch.

Even Richie McCaw was unable to alter his side's mindset or tactics during the Crusader's game against the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images
Even Richie McCaw was unable to alter his side's mindset or tactics during the Crusader's game against the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images

Losing to the Sharks in pool play was so unlike the Crusaders.

At home and with a man advantage after Jean Deysel was sent off early, the Crusaders rarely got out of third gear and certainly did not engage their rugby brains.

They failed to press through the middle and then spread the ball wide while the Sharks showed rare resolve for their first win in Christchurch.

You wanted to rub your eyes. It was a bit surreal, it was not the rugby we had come to expect from those who inhabit the red and black jerseys as, disturbingly, they played without their usual smarts.

They were without key men Kieran Read, Andy Ellis, Daniel Carter and Israel Dagg who will all play in Saturday's semi but their absence did not excuse the brain fades.

Richie McCaw played that night and even he was unable to alter the side's mindset or tactics. He is training after time out with a cracked rib and is tipped to be the one change, replacing Jordan Taufua on the blindside, leaving Matt Todd to roam wider.

What is certain about the Crusaders is that they will bring more lineout and scrum solidity than the Highlanders were able to muster in Durban. They were dealt to in scrums and lineout drives and conceded three tries in those areas of the game.

They tried to keep the ball alive in a tactic to negate the Sharks' power in rucks and mauls and reduce the time they had to reset their defensive lines. That free-wheeling style drew great dividends with Kane Hames' try one of the best all season.

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett thought it would be much harder for the Sharks to impose their plans on the Crusaders.

"My concern going into the semifinals is that the Crusaders' forwards will match the Sharks' as they have six or seven All Blacks," he told a South African website.

"They won't concede a lot of scrum penalties. The Sharks' pattern of play - a good scrum and lineout and a strong kicking game - won't be as easy to impose on the Crusaders as it was on the Highlanders.

"The semifinal will be in Christchurch and while the referee will be neutral, he will favour the home side with the 50-50 calls."

Glen Jackson will referee the Crusaders v Sharks match in Christchurch on Saturday and Jaco Peyper will control the Waratahs v Brumbies in Sydney later that night.

- NZ Herald

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