The Crusaders scored another nailbiting win, their third in a row, as they edged the Bulls 16-13 in their Super 14 encounter in Christchurch on Friday.
The Bulls outscored the Crusaders by two tries to one, but a host of errors in what was another ordinary performance from the Bulls handed the win to the home team.
Big is not always better; kicking is not always the better way to win. The Bulls were bigger but not always better. They came second in the scrums and second in the tackles and only just won the line-outs. When they kicked they came second; when they ran they were better; when the Crusaders kicked they were bad, except for that freakish kick that started the scoring.
The 22 on the right side of the field as you looked from the stand was a bit of Bermuda Triangle. The ball kicked high into that area did mysterious things that had the potential to sink both sides. The Bulls found it hard in the first half, the Crusaders in the second.
The Bulls scored two tries to one but they made far too many elementary errors against the inexperienced Crusaders to deserve to win. The Crusaders on the other hand won the scrums with good technique and won the battle for the loose ball. They enjoyed more possession and better territorial advantage as a result. If the other side does stupid things, you deserve to beat them.
That said, for 76 minutes the Crusaders, for all their territory and possession, did not score a try. The try they got had lots and lots of jam on it.
Leon MacDonald kicked high and three Bulls watched it as it came back to earth. They just watched it. It hit ground and bounced and a following Crusader, Colin Slade, grabbed it. He popped the ball to his left to tall Isaac Ross who wandered over to score. Brett converted. 7-0.
The Bulls had a passage of play as they went through phases till Morné Steyn had to pass to his right. It was woeful and Kahn Fotuali’i broke out. In the second half there was a similar situation and this time Steyn chipped George Whitelock saved as he and Akona Ndungane jumped for the ball at the line. Late in the second half the Bulls went through phases and looked on the way to scoring till JP Nel kicked directly into touch. Mind you, the worst kicker on attack was Jaco Pretorius who wasted what little ball he got.
Not that they were the only guilty ones. Up-and-down flyhalf Brett twice kicked out on the full when he should not have and once kicked a long ball over the dead-ball line.
When Fourie du Preez kicked into the Crusaders’ 22, Slade marked and the Crusaders ran out of deep defence. It was perhaps the one moment in the match when they played as the Crusaders of old had played.
Du Preez is at his best when he is imperious, takes control of a match with calm efficiency. That did not happen in Christchurch when he was often hesitant and inaccurate.
After the Crusaders had been through several phases, Nel was penalised in front of his posts for going in at the side of a tackle/ruck, which he did twice. Brett goaled. 10-0 after 15 minutes.
When the Bulls ran they put pressure on the Crusaders but then Steyn kicked. MacDonald countered, chipped and caught and the next thing the Crusaders were at the line, but MacDonald, back in the action, lost the ball forward at the line.
The Bulls’ try was a beauty. Wynand Olivier, playing his 50th Super rugby match, got good ball from a line-out and broke past Tim Bateman and then past MacDonald before giving a perfect pass to Ndungane on his right and the wing surfed in for a try in the corner. The conversion was missed. 10-5 after 33 minutes.
Brian Habana, playing fullback as Zane Kirchner had gone off early, counterattacked and Ndungane and Olivier carried it on till the Bulls had an overlap and looked sure to score but Jared Payne knocked the ball away.
When Danie Rossouw, playing flank, crabbed across field (again), he was freekicked. Du Preez threw the ball away and the Crusaders tapped and attacked. They got to the line and then passed back to Brett who dropped the easiest of drop goals. 13-5 after 45 minutes.
The Crusaders did not score again for 20 minutes and then, too, it was thanks to Bull errors.
Olivier dummied and broke to set the Bulls on the attack till Steyn kicked. They countered promisingly till Pretorius kicked out on the full.
From a free kick, Du Preez raced off on the attack. Derick Kuün ran brilliantly, beating three Crusaders. The ball then went right and Olivier passed the best pass of the 2009 Super 14 – a long, left-handed pass past Habana and perfectly for Ndungane who again scored in the corner. 13-10 after 55 minutes.
Ross was penalised for a high tackle and Steyn goaled. 13-13 after 59 minutes.
The Bulls made a mess of some passing and ended throwing in to a line-out in their own 22 – a full line-out but Kuün opted to throw to Du Preez standing at the front of the line-out. Du Preez passed back to Kuün but the pass was forward. The Crusaders went right from the subsequent scrum and Pedrie Wannenburg was penalised for a high tackle on Bateman. Brett goaled the easy kick. 16-13 with 15 minutes to play.
The Bulls attacked through many phases but Nel kicked directly into touch.
Du Preez broke sharply and passed a perfect pass to Rossouw on his right but the big man tried to catch the ball with one hand and could not do it.
The Crusaders won a turnover and went into pick-in-drive mode as the clock neared no-side. But at last the Bulls got the ball back with a turnover but Pretorius knocked it on three times as he tried to pick it up. Du Preez was offside at the scum and Brett kicked the penalty into touch for the victory.
Man of the Match: Wynand Olivier was brilliant. For the Crusaders Brad Thorn was a Trojan but our Man of the Match for all the class he showed was Leon MacDonald.
For the Crusaders:
Pens: Brett 2
For the Bulls:
Tries: Ndungane 2
Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Jared Payne, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Colin Slade, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 George Whitelock, 6 Kieran Read (captain), 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Daniel Perrin, 17 Peter Borlase, 18 Michael Paterson, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gürthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Engels, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Pedrie Wannenburg, 19 Derick Kuün, 20 Heinie Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 JP Nel.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Touch judges: Vinny Munro (New Zealand), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: James McPhail (New Zealand)