Crusaders hold off Tahs' challenge

31st Mar 2007, 13:43

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The Crusaders held on in the face of a fierce onslaught from a determined Waratahs outfit to record a nail-biting 34-33 win at the Aussie Stadium in Sydney on Saturday. In the end a missed conversion by Peter Hewat 10 minutes from the end robbed the home side of a famous win.

The Crusaders held on in the face of a fierce onslaught from a determined Waratahs outfit to record a nail-biting 34-33 win at the Aussie Stadium in Sydney on Saturday. In the end a missed conversion by Peter Hewat 10 minutes from the end robbed the home side of a famous win.

It is a victory that saw the Crusaders move into second place on the standings at a stage when the Super 14 competition is beginning to move into the business end of the season.

If you have or can get a recording of the match, go to 12 minutes for the most special moment of the 2007 Super 14 this year. Watch the astonishing teenager Lachlan Turner score a try. Then watch it over and over with undiminished wonder and delight.

He sped 60 metres to score it. On the way he swept on the outside past Rico Gear and then on the outside, close to touch, he skated past All Black Leon MacDonald for a try of great splendour.

Whatever else happened in the match could not equal that exquisite moment. It was the star moment in a star match when suddenly Super 14 rugby rose up brilliantly out of the ashes of drab sameness. It was a wonderful match, and both sides contributed to the spectacle.

A great deal happened in the early part of the match and mostly the Crusaders were doing it. Basketball has the Harlem Globetrotters, rugby football the Crusaders, so it seemed. In half an hour they had a bonus point for tries and were leading 22-5. It was all a matter of how much. In the end they led by a single point and kicked the ball out when the siren went lest they lose the match, even though they were right on the Waratahs' line.

Hats off high to the Waratahs who showed how confidence can set skills free and make a mockery of all that went before this season. They, too, got a bonus point for tries. They had scored 8 tries in their 7 previous matches - and now four against the star-studded Crusaders.

They reaffirmed that which we know - that sport is played by human beings who all have limitations and frailties, even if they have been reconditioned. It also told us the telling difference between confidence and overconfidence.

The Waratahs learnt a few things. Firstly that they are a good side, secondly, that Lote Tuqiri is a wing, not a centre, thirdly that Sam Norton-Knight's best position is flyhalf and fourthly that Peter Hewat is best at fullback.

Hewat started at wing with Kurtley Beale at fullback and Lachlan Turner on the other wing, inviting the Crusaders to do what they did do - bomb the teenagers. Turner came out of the ordeal well.

The Crusaders scored first as Aaron Mauger, Stephen Brett and Leon MacDonald made for the Waratahs line where prop Campbell Johnstone picked up the ball and flopped over the for the try. This one Brett converted though his subsequent kicking was, with one exception, awry. He missed four conversions, not all of them hard, but his misses were not as dramatic or easy as Hewat's last attempt.

After this the Waratahs attacked as two penalties gave them two five-metre line-outs and a great passage of attack till David Lyons knocked on. The game was fast and played largely off the cuff. There were only 13 scrums in this match of superior handling. The first came after 17 minutes.

Chris Jack left the field with a knee injury, which may have been a cause for concern. It also made line-outs less convincing for the Crusaders.

Then came Turner's sparkling miracle of a try. 7-5 after 13 minutes.

Not long afterwards the Crusaders, as is their wont, struck back. Mutton-chopped Corey Flynn threw in at a mess of a line-out. Unintentionally the ball went over the back where Richie McCaw got the ball. He straightened past Brett Sheehan and played inside to Mose Tuiali'i. Ross Filipo carried it on and then from the tackle quick ball went left where Gear scored, one of four who could have.

The Crusaders were attacking when Tuqiri intercepted and set off down the field with Brett in pursuit. The big Wallaby wing was ahead of Brett but Brett was gaining. Tuqiri gave to Hewat and Brett turned his attention to Hewat and was making rapid strides on him. Hewat played back to Tuqiri and the defence rallied killing the threat with a heavy tackle on Beale.

The Crusaders chased a long kick by Brett towards the right-hand corner. Hewat and Turner dithered and the Crusaders were on the attack. Mauger straightened and Tuiali'i scored the try. 17-5.

The Crusaders mauled a line-out and then released their backs. Brett dummied and gave to Laulala who gave straight to Mauger who straightened past Tuqiri to score. 22-5. Bonus point in the bank, victory sealed, another championship beckoning - or so it seemed.

The Waratahs attacked through many phases and Norton-Knight gave to replacement Sam Harris who burst past Brett and Johnstone to score at the padding. Hewat converted that and then goaled a penalty to make the score 22-15 at the break, which was astounding as it seemed that the Crusaders were so much better.

In the second half the Waratahs outscored the Crusaders. In fact in the last 50 minutes of the match they scored 28 points to 12!

With Rocky Elsom and Sam Harris setting them running the Waratahs went through many phases in the first two minutes of the second half and gave Hewat the chance to make the score 22-18.

Now the Waratahs confidence was nearly tangible as Tuqiri and Hewat led the attack which went through eight phases before Norton-Knight accepted a little pass and cut through for a try behind the posts. The Waratahs led 25-22 after six minutes in the second half.

Was the miracle about to happen. Was the flame of the Waratah standing proud and bright in the bush of Super 14?

But five minutes later Tuiali'i made the running and Casey Laulala just managed to hang onto a bobbled ball to score are out. This time Brett converted. 29-25.

The Crusaders drove a long maul down on the left and then swung the ball wide to their left where Gear swept round Norton-Knight to score. The conversion was nowhere near but the score was 34-25. Were the Crusaders about to rampage?

When Laulala was penalised at a tackle, Hewat made the score 34-28 and the Waratahs were attacking.

Their try came on counterattack, thanks to the second best individual moment of the match. Brett kicked poorly to Hewat who gave to Tuqiri, now on the right wing. The big man raced down the right, beating four would-be tacklers before playing inside to replacement hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, and the burly hooker had no difficulty in ploughing ahead for the try. 34-33 with the conversion to come from just to the right of the posts as the Waratahs looked at them.

Hewat's conversion went high to the left, hit the upright and stayed out.

There were ten minutes to play but the best of those belonged to the Crusaders as they battered at the Waratahs' line.

This was a match in which the losers won the kudos - and two bonus points.

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