Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Forget Canes - this team is consistent

Crusaders Kieran Read leaps to take lineup ball during their super rugby match against the Stormers in Christchurch. Photo / AP
Crusaders Kieran Read leaps to take lineup ball during their super rugby match against the Stormers in Christchurch. Photo / AP

The unbeaten Crusaders have had an incredibly successful start to the season with their consistency and the style of play they're developing.

To me, they are probably the most impressive team of the competition.

People may raise their eyebrows and say "what about the Hurricanes?" And, yes, the Hurricanes have been lethal - they can put two or three tries on you in a matter of a few minutes, but for me they have been impressive only in moments.

They have drifted at times, but the Crusaders have set a new standard in terms of consistency.

There's no doubt there have been speed bumps - they have been forced into comebacks after conceding big leads in three of their eight wins. It hasn't been easy, but what will please their coaches and supporters is their resolve and character regardless of what's happening on the field.

Watching them dismantle the Stormers, what impressed me most was the evolution of their game plan from a forward-based, set piece-dominated style, where the lineout drive in particular is used as a weapon (in other words narrow), to an attack based on width.

It has added balance and they look better for it. They've left for two games in South Africa, and traditionally when their play hasn't been as consistent as they would like, this trip has been the catalyst for their run to the playoffs. Now their focus must be on not dropping away.

They were very accurate against the Stormers, particularly with their passing; their linking and offloads and ability in contact to find space.

It started with halfback Mitchell Drummond but even their forwards were involved. The passes were out in front and in the right places. There were three or four instances in the game when Richie Mo'unga and Jack Goodhue threw 20-25m cut-out passes to George Bridge and Kieran Read.

They were perfect and when you have those micro skills in the game working really well it's easier for the more difficult parts of the game to come together.

That width allowed Read to use his running and passing skills in the wide channels and that's where he is at his best. That's been missing a bit in recent times and that wasn't good for the Crusaders or the All Blacks. When he plays like that the hooker can as well - think Read and Dane Coles roaming wide for the All Blacks, a handful for any team, and against the Stormers he and hooker Codie Taylor were doing the damage.

The Chiefs weren't as accurate against the Force. They were easily the best side on the park but the Force can be difficult opponents.

It shows the Crusaders are playing with confidence but also that they are well coached, well drilled and are happy. There's no doubt they've had quite a comfortable run to this point, with quite a few home games. Sterner challenges will test the squad but can also make them better.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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