It wasn’t exactly “Robbie Who?” ringing around AMI Stadium on Friday night, but there was no escaping the fact that the new era of Crusaders Super 14 rugby began in pretty similar fashion to the way the old one ended.
That’s to say, the hard work was put in, the errors shrugged off, plenty of pressure was absorbed, opportunities were taken pretty damn clinically and at the end of the day, regardless of the style points, the competition ones were taken. In other words the Red ‘n Black machine rumbles on, no matter the change in operator behind the wheel.
And so it was as the Todd Blackadder regime in Super 14 rugby was launched early last evening in Christchurch in chillingly similar style as the Robbie Deans one was signed off on.
Marc Hinton writes for RugbyHeaven NZ that the Crusaders took the best shots of a willing, if a little over-anxious, Chiefs side, came through the tough times largely intact and then sealed the deal at the end, to come away with a 19-13 opening round victory.
In the end it was three tries to two and probably on the balance a deserved victory for the champs; but the disappointment etched on the Chiefs leaders afterwards told a different story. They felt they had a chance to make it three in a row against the Crusaders, and rued their inability to nail it when it counted.
From the home side of the fence, it wasn’t all pretty – not with all those handling errors – but where Blackadder was sitting it was pretty damn enjoyable.
Later he revealed his immense satisfaction at what he perceived was an impressive effort from his men, never mind that the Chiefs for large patches managed to make the defending champions look anything but unbeatable.
“I thought all along we were creating opportunities,” said the rookie coach. “”We had the ball, but probably just the last pass was breaking down a bit. I felt like most of the game we were in control. As the game wore on we just seemed to get better and better.”
So, how had his first week been?
“It’s been a fantastic week,” beamed the Toddster. “The first game is always the easiest to build for because there’s lots of enthusiasm. It’s been terrific. Everything has gone according to plan, and more so the result really.
“It’s always nice to have a good buildup but there’s always that little bit of doubt at the end of the week about what the opposition is going to bring. I’m just really pleased our guys gusted it out, and they did guts it out.
“It didn’t all go our way tonight, and we had to fight for it which was good.”
The Crusaders had been well worth their 14-5 halftime lead, crossing for two tries to one and having very much the better of the territorial battle.
The handling was a bit scratchy pretty much throughout the opening spell, but there was a familiar feel to the way the Crusaders forwards swarmed on anything loose, owned their set piece and the highly organised manner in which they launched their attacks.
Casey Laulala, who may be the forgotten man of New Zealand rugby but has no such identity problems down here, capped an outstanding first 40 minutes with a well-taken try after a quarter of an hour, though it owed plenty to the skill of Colin Slade (a key Blackadder selection) whose left-footed grubber was a peach.
The 7-0 lead was reduced by five eight minutes later when Richard Kahui was rewarded for backing up when Lelia Masaga couldn’t quite get to the line, but impressive young second five Tim Bateman restored the Crusaders’ advantage when he swooped on loose ball, fended a couple and dashed the best part of 50 metres for a massive touchdown.
After halftime the Chiefs worked their way right back into it via a Stephen Donald penalty and a Lelia Masaga try, following a big breakout by Sione Lauaki, but at 13-14 the visitors rather got a case of stage fright.
The match was theirs to take, but they hesitated when they had to strike. Sure enough the Crusaders worked their way out of a tight spot of two and sealed the deal when Laulala, alongside his midfield partner Bateman the player of the match, crossed for his brace.
There may be a new face at the helm, but nothing too much changes in Crusaders country.
Crusaders 19: Casey Laulala 2, Tim Bateman tries; Colin Slade 2 cons.
Chiefs 13: Richard Kahui, Lelia Masaga tries; Stephen Donald pen.Tweet