Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Crusaders pinch late win

Israel Dagg of the Crusaders is tackled short of the try line during the round four Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Stormers. Photo / Getty Images.
Israel Dagg of the Crusaders is tackled short of the try line during the round four Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Stormers. Photo / Getty Images.

Crusaders 14
Stormers 13

In a game of inches, somehow, when they never looked remotely likely of winning for most of the game, the Crusaders stole enough to win a game that may be season-turning for them.

They had never lost to the Stormers at home before tonight and for most of the game it didn't look like they were going to stop history being made.

But they did. And they managed it with the oldest of Crusaders values - sheer bloody-minded commitment.

They didn't play well. They made far too many errors. Their attack game was a shambles again but graft, belief and mind-numbing commitment got them home.

These are qualities that matter and maybe now with a scrambling victory, the Crusaders will find their form and start to build. Maybe.

The Stormers actually played them like a fiddle. They sucked up everything the Crusaders could throw at them, which wasn't much, and then pounced on the counter attack.

The Crusaders can look to their recent past and see precedent here. They haven't started well since 2011 and so this almost looks like the par for the course. But it's not.
But this doesn't look like a slow start any more: this actually looks like the Crusaders might not have much more to offer. So much has been made about their insipid attack game, but it would be a giant elephant in the room if any analysis ignored it.

The Christchurch faithful had to wait until the 60th minute to see a clean break. It was only with three-quarters of the game gone that Willi Heinz was able to scorch through a hole and maker 30 metres. Until then it was a desperately turgid business watching the Crusaders with ball in hand.

The error count was crippling. That stopped the Crusaders from playing at the pace they wanted. They couldn't shift the Stormers tacklers, couldn't attack in the places they wanted and found themselves shovelling the ball aimlessly towards the touchlines.

What should be of huge concern is that no one can say any more that it looked decidedly unlike the Crusaders. Sadly, it looked all too familiar. A victory can cover a lot of cracks but they have to cautious about over celebrating. They have the points yes, but not any certainty they are yet on the right track with anything other than their passion.

The Crusaders could hardly have faced a stiffer examination of their attacking ability. The Stormers brought their unique brand of defence to proceedings - forming this solid blue wall across the field didn't once in the first 60 minutes look like being penetrated.
No question, the Stormers are not for the casual rugby follower. They are not a pretty team to watch. The purists, though, can get them and enjoy them. Defensively they were brilliant in the way they applied pressure all over the field.

Defence Stormers-style is multi-faceted. They were able to frustrate the Crusaders at the lineout. De Kock Steenkamp was the best poacher in the competition last year and his battle with Sam Whitelock was endless. The Stormers weren't able to turn defensive steals into gilt-edged attacking opportunities, but they did continually disrupt their hosts supply of possession.

They were able to then turn the screw further with their line speed and individual technique in the tackle and the lack of numbers they sent into the breakdown.

It meant the Crusaders couldn't get any offloads going and even when the recycle was quick, they were still facing a Stormers defensive line that had multiple bodies in it.

It became a little painful watching the Crusaders trying to break down what they encountered. There was virtually no guile or deception to their work. There was a bit of direct work from the big boys, but it felt like they were attacking in the wrong place.

Schalk Burger was in vintage form and between him and No 8 Duane Vermuelen, they were able to smash and grapple for possession and force the Crusaders to crab. When the home side went wider, it was a bit laboured, a bit lateral and a bit unconvincing. The timing, the angles and the decision-making just weren't sharp enough to steal the half metres they needed to build momentum.

A neat lineout move was enough to finally see them find space and new boy Kieron Fonotia was able to run hard and straight to smash over with 10 minutes remaining to get them close, before a Tom Taylor penalty pushed them in front.

Crusaders 14 (K. Fonotia try; T. Taylor 3 pens)
Stormers 13 (D. De Allende tries; D. Catrakillis 2 pens, con)

- Herald on Sunday

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