Crusaders go top in Perth

10th Mar 2008, 12:43

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Just Short: Ryan Cross is snagged by Stephen Brett in Perth

Just Short: Ryan Cross is snagged by Stephen Brett in Perth

The Crusaders clambered to the top of the Super 14 table courtesy of a pulsating 29-24 victory over Western Force in Perth on Saturday, coming back from 24-12 down to make it four wins from four.

The Crusaders clambered to the top of the Super 14 table courtesy of a pulsating 29-24 victory over Western Force in Perth on Saturday, coming back from 24-12 down to make it four wins from four.

The locals will kick themselves for failing to protect such a healthy lead, but on reflection they will be able to hold their heads up high.

The experienced New Zealanders showed their champion mettle at the Subiaco Oval, and the Force - a flat-packed franchise - were just a score adrift (and on the attack) at the death. On this showing, they should still be in play-off contention come May.

Admittedly, the Crusaders appeared disinterested for much of the first half, as if they had come to town simply to collect the points and skedaddle. They made a host of uncharacteristic handling errors in the early stages and slipped off numerous tackles.

Dan Carter recently confessed to be a big fan of England's Jonny Wilkinson, and he paid tribute to his hero's showing on Saturday with a horrible display of kicking.

The Englishman can call on inclement conditions and homicidal Scots in defence of his performance, Carter has no such excuse. Luckily for the All Black superstar, tactical kicking only has a minor role under the new laws.

Indeed, this was a game that did the ELVs proud: it was all action and precious little foreplay.

With tries seemingly exchangeable with line-outs in the 'old money', one's mind wandered from the game during the nine conversion attempts to the duel between Carter and Matt Giteau.

Despite ending on the losing side, the Australian won this bout convincingly and gave Crusaders coach Robbie Deans - the incoming Wallaby boss - plenty to smile about.

But who knows whether Giteau will be as dominant when the two meet again on the international stage, playing the 'old' laws ... in Hong Kong. This is a crazy time for our grand old game.

But we digress, back to balmy Perth we go!

It was a scintillating first half with five tries to excite the Perth fans in the Force's first home appearance of the campaign.

Carter and Greg Somerville crossed for the Crusaders, but the home side had a 17-12 lead at the break after tries to David Pocock, Ryan Cross and Richard Brown.

When Lachlan MacKay scored a try early in the first and Giteau converted, the Force led 24-12 but that only sparked the visitors in to action.

They scored the last 17 points of the match to get home and leave the Force with two wins from four matches.

Both teams docked in Perth after tough but successful South African trips. The Force got over the Lions and Cheetahs after losing to the Sharks in the opening round.

The Crusaders thrashed the Brumbies at home to start the season before big wins over the Bulls and Stormers in South Africa.

The Force dominated the first ten minutes and were rewarded when Pocock crossed for his first top-flight try.

He put it down right in the corner after terrific build-up work by scrum-half Chris O'Young, who made his first appearance since re-signing with the Force after the sacking of Matt Henjak.

Carter then drew blood in the battle between fly-halves when Giteau's tackle slipped off him and he cruised past MacKay to the line in the 15th minute. He then converted to put the Crusaders up 7-5.

Ten minutes later and the Crusaders extended their lead thanks to a try from Somerville on his return to the starting line-up. After some good work in the scrum, he put his head down and got through the Force defence.

Carter missed the conversion but the New Zealanders still led 12-5.

Two minutes later Giteau made up for his earlier missed tackle by setting Cross a path to the try-line, which he eagerly accepted to continue his good form from South Africa. Giteau converted to level scores at 12-12.

Then, six minutes before half-time, Scott Staniforth and Cross brilliantly setting up Brown to storm over for the Force's third try. The Force went on to lead 17-12 at the break.

The Force's fourth try came nine minutes into the second half when MacKay made a welcome return from a seemingly never-ending injury run to baulk his way through the Crusaders defence. The Force led 24-12 after the Giteau conversion.

Ali Williams then crossed for the easiest try of the game five minutes later. He took a quick free-kick and dived over the line with the Force unable to hold him up. Carter missed the conversion to keep the margin at seven.

Almost straight after Mose Tuiali'i made a great run along the sideline and passed off to scrum-half Andy Ellis, who made a good catch that enabled him to cross for the Crusaders' fourth try. When Carter converted, scores were tied at 24-24 after trailing by 12 just minutes earlier.

The Crusaders then stormed ahead when Casey Laulala made Shepherd and Giteau pay for poor kicking attempts and crossed at the 68-minute mark for a try. He was cleverly set up by Stephen Brett and even though Carter missed the conversion, the Crusaders led 29-24.

The Force had one last play to snatch the win after time was up, but Sharpe threw a pass into touch and that was the game.

The Force head off again on a two-week road trip, this time to New Zealand to face the Blues and Highlanders, while the Crusaders return home to host the Cheetahs and Waratahs in the next two weeks.

Man of the match: The Crusaders' immense strength lies in the collective rather than the individual, so we'll tender this award to a local in recognition of their efforts. Matt Giteau, David Pocock and Richard Brown both caught the eye, but Ryan Cross shone in broken play, showing up not a few of his illustrious opponents. Robbie Deans would have jotted the rangy RL convert's name down in his 'other' notebook.

Moment of the match: Plenty of pretty moments of attacking rugby, but it was Casey Laulala's try that sealed the deal.

Villian of the match: Perhaps the MC at the Subiaco Oval; a blast of Coldplay after every try doesn't really fit in with SANZAR's new happy-clappy take on Super Rugby. Perhaps he was just pining for the 'old' laws...

The scorers:

For Western Force:
Tries: Pocock, Cross, Brown, MacKay
Cons: Giteau 2

For Crusaders:
Tries: Carter, Somerville, Williams, Ellis, Lualala
Cons: Carter 2

Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Lachlan MacKay, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Chris O'Young, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Tamaiti Horua, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 AJ Whalley, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Gareth Hardy.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Troy Takiari, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 James Stannard, 21 Scott Daruda, 22 Josh Tatupu.

Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Stephen Brett, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Kieran