Relief rather than rejoicing was the prevailing emotion in the Crusaders camp as they secured the bonus point victory over the Lions they needed to keep alive their Super 14 title defence.
The Crusaders scored two tries in each half as they paced their effort almost to perfection in Johannesburg early this morning, with a 32-20 victory over an outclassed Lions side. That moves the defending champions to 32 points and, temporarily at least, fifth on the standings.
More importantly it keeps the embers burning on their shot at an eighth Super rugby title, though their first under their new coach. And that was the abiding message as Todd Blackadder reflected on his side’s victory afterwards.
“I’m just really pleased,” said a relieved Blackadder after reserve hooker Daniel Perrin’s 67th-minute touchdown off a slick lineout move down the short side gave the Crusaders their first four-try bonus of the campaign.
“We knew what we needed to do but it’s never as easy as that. Sometimes when you’re trying to get a win and know you’ve got to win with a bonus point it almost piles a little bit more pressure on trying to get a good result.
“I’m just really pleased that we came through it.”
Marc Hinton writes for Rugbyheaven NZ that The match wasn’t without its anxious moments as the Crusaders led just 17-15 at the break, with in-form lock Isaac Ross and Stephen Brett, via a charge-down and nice pick-up, getting them halfway to their required haul.
But after the break the Crusaders forwards took control of the match, dominating possession over the run home and pretty much strangling the Lions out of the match. Big Brad Thorn thundered across for their third try, and a 24-15 lead, just past the three-quarter mark, Brett’s skilful pass setting the table nicely.
However the Lions got back within four when Anton van Zyl tiptoed down the touchline to regather a kick-ahead, raising the anxiety levels in the Crusaders coaches’ box, before Perrin sealed the deal and a late Leon MacDonald penalty iced it.
Asked if he saw signs his side had addressed the issues it needed to, Blackadder said: “I saw bits and pieces. When we were ruthless and stuck to our structures we certainly opened up opportunities.
“What’s really frustrating is we’re just not finishing. But the pleasing thing is we scored four tries today and that’s something we haven’t been able to do all season.”
It was not vintage Crusaders. Far from it. And Blackadder was still able to highlight areas where he needs improvement.
“We’re just letting one or two (opportunities) slip through our fingers,” he said. “We just need to be more ruthless, trust our hands, and just get the little things right.”
For all that, Blackadder said the mood in the changing sheds was rightfully buoyant. It was, after all, a pretty impressive response in a week when the pressure went on in a big way.
“They’re excited,” he said… “A lot of hard work has gone in this week. There’s been no stone left unturned, I can tell you that. It’s been very direct and we got a good response. There’s a bit of relief about.”
Blackadder also liked the way his forwards, led by Kieran Read in roll-up-the-sleeves mode, took control of the match when they really needed to.
“I was pleased with our set piece, and I thought as the game went on our pack grew. Early on the signs weren’t good – our carry wasn’t hard, and I wasn’t too over-confident with our contact. But as the game went on we got better and better.
“When you see Brad Thorn running with a bit of depth and purpose you just feel that things are coming right. I’m just pleased as a pack they stepped up today.”
Things certainly don’t get any easier for the Crusaders now, though.
They have the long trip back to Christchurch to get through, then a short week before the Queensland Reds come to town looking to burst the bubble of another New Zealand contender.
And really nothing changes as the Crusaders head into another week of sudden-death football.
They’ve still got to win, and win well, or it’s all over. One more week supping at the Last Chance Saloon.
Lions 20: Jano Vermaak, Johan van Deventer, Anton van Zyl tries; Andre Pretorius pen, con.
Crusaders 32: Isaac Ross, Stephen Brett, Brad Thorn, Dan Perrin tries; Leon MacDonald 2 pens, 3 cons.Tweet