Planet Rugby

Crusaders in seventh heaven

31st May 2008 10:16

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Captain Fantastic: Dean Mumm attempts to rein in Richie McCaw

The Crusaders clinched their seventh Super Rugby title after beating a determined Waratahs outfit 20-12 in a hard-fought final played with incredible energy and at a ferocious pace in Christchurch on Saturday.

It was a classic final and one that capped a fine season for the Crusaders who have dominated from the outset of the competition.

It was also a fitting send-off for Crusaders coach Robbie Deans who ends his nine-year reign with yet another winner's medal before crossing the Tasman Sea to take on his new coaching role with the Wallabies.

The same couldn't be said of Ewen McKenzie who departs the Waratahs with a loser's medal. But he can hold his head up high after his troops pushed the Crusaders all the way and never gave up.

Indeed, the Waratahs exploded out of the traps to build a 12-3 lead via a brace of tries from winger Lachlan Turner. But canny work from the serial champions turned the tide in the second half.

Another Carter penalty coupled with a try to number eight Mose Tuiali'i on the stroke of half-time closed the gap, but the Waratahs hung on to lead the Crusaders by a single point at the break.

However, a game is played over eighty minutes, not forty - this the Waratahs found out the hard way after failing to score in the second half even with the Crusaders down to fourteen men.

The visitors' scoring drought after the break could also be put down to staunch Crusaders defence that often led to four red-and-black jerseys swamping a lone Waratah, forcing the player to hang on for dear life and hand back possession due to a free-kick for holding on, or, on most occasions, through a turnover.

But the Crusaders also had trouble crossing the line for their second try - the Waratahs showing they too were equally up to the task with some vital tackles made by desperate covering players that denied the home side on several occasions.

What looked to be the Crusaders' decisive try - to Wyatt Crockett in the 56th minute when the hosts were ahead 14-12 midway through the second spell - was cancelled out by South African referee Mark Lawrence.

The Crusaders' prop had his celebrations cut horribly short when lock Brad Thorn was caught by the touch judge and given a ten minute break for a punch on his opposite number, Dan Vickerman.

The decision not to award Crockett's try made the second spell tighter than it might have been.

Instead, it was the unnerving boot of Carter that proved the difference between the two sides as the classy Crusaders pivot racked up a personal tally of fifteen points in the match - nine in the second half, including a well-struck drop-goal - to help guide his team to victory.

Conditions were perfect with 26,000 fans packed into the reduced stadium, the eastern side of the ground having been demolished for the creation of a new stand for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The Crusaders got off to an early lead thanks to a Carter penalty goal after just two minutes played.

But the Waratahs struck back with their first attack. Kurtley Beale, who had a commanding performance before leaving the field injured midway through the second half, put in a pin-point cross-kick that saw Turner soar above Carter to twist and turn his way over the line.

Beale lived up to his wobbly goal-kicking reputation by missing the conversion, but the Waratahs were in front with a 5-3 lead.

Turner scored next as well as the Waratahs somehow turned some scrambling defence on their own line into a counter-attacking try at the other end of the pitch.

Skipper Phil Waugh initiated the attack with an intercept against the run of play which was finished off by a classy kick and chase by Turner to score beside the posts.

Beale's couldn't miss this conversion and had the visitors out to a handy and unexpected 12-3 lead. Game on!

A chance for the Crusaders to strike back was lost in an overlap situation when centre Casey Laulala opted to go alone with the Waratahs defence stretched and two men outside him.

However, following the Waratahs' desperate clearance by Turner, the Crusaders made their way back downfield and Carter had a second chance at goal to reclaim the lead after 22 minutes, but missed.

The Waratahs were determined to contest aggressively at the breakdown and seemed to have found an ally in referee Lawrence who frequently allowed them to push the envelope - especially Waugh.

However the pressure of the Crusaders was so forceful that the visitors were forced to take greater risks and they were eventually ticked off by Lawrence - going as far as to describe one instance of killing the ball as "cheating".

A Carter penalty pulled the score up to 6-12 and then, typically, the Crusaders scored when it was most needed - just before half-time - as they worked rookie winger Kade Poki clear on the left before switching the ball fast to the right.

A skip-out pass by Carter to Brad Thorn and then to Richie McCaw created the space for Tuiali'i to power through and squeeze his way in at the corner.

Although Carter missed the conversion it was 11-12 at half-time and the platform had been set to take full advantage of the home side's control of possession and field position.

It was no surprise then that the Crusaders scored first after the break to continue their momentum and reclaim the lead with Carter landing another penalty after centre Tim Bateman was cut down on the line by a high tackle from Waratahs lock Dean Mumm.

It was around about this time that the match started to turn for the better and the worse for the Waratahs.

Beale had gone down and was lying prone in need of attention, realising this Turner tried for a long touch-finder but instead sent the ball to Bateman who spotted acres of space at the back and sent a raking kick bouncing towards the corner for speedster Poki to chase.

Poki's pace had been a problem for the Waratahs, with the Crusaders using him on both sides of the field, and - unsurprisingly - he won the sprint to the ball before loosing his footing.

However, the unlikely figure of loosehead prop Crockett scooped it up and crashed over.

It was a telling riposte which would have made the score 19-12 with Carter's conversion to follow, but the Christchurch crowd's delight turned to puzzlement after play was brought back because of Thorn's previous infringement.

With the Crusaders down to 14 men, the Waratahs then started to raise the pace and take the game to their hosts and were making a good fist of it, but couldn't crack the defence.

Somehow the Crusaders hung tough with scrum-half Andy Ellis in the thick of the action, marshalling his pack and linking with his backs in a classy display that will ensure he remains in the All Blacks frame.

And in the 70th minute, perhaps with thoughts of the World Cup quarter-final in his mind, Carter whipped over a drop-goal to take the score out to 17-12.

This put the Waratahs at the disadvantage of having to score a try to, at least, get back on level terms. But with frustration setting in, Waugh stupidly held back Scott Hamilton from catching the ball and Carter punished the Waratahs skipper with his fourth penalty of the night.

Hamilton only had himself to blame when he blew a try two minutes from the end when he knocked on with the line at his mercy. But it didn't matter, the fairytale crusade was complete.

Man of the match: Brad Thorn, his discretion aside, had a powerful match and Richie McCaw was once again inspirational. Kieran Read was tireless at McCaw's side and Wyatt Crockett had a towering game that might have pushed his name forward for Sunday's All Blacks announcement. Dan Carter's game continues to get back into shape after his injury-interrupted campaign and would have got the defining vote. Instead, we've decided on going a different route and in the only way Planet Rugby can, we're honouring the departing Robbie Deans with our man-of-the-match award. The most successful Super Rugby coach may be leaving the Crusaders, but his legacy will live on forever.

Moment of the match: Losing a tight forward is usually disastrous but it was in the ten minute period with 14 men that the Crusaders showed their championship quality; forcing some crucial turnovers and tackling with a cold-blooded ferocity that caused the Waratahs to lose their attacking structure at crucial times and fail to score any more points.

Villain of the match: Although we didn't see it, Brad Thorn must take this award for his punch on Dan Vickerman. Luckily for the Crusaders, the only damage done was to Vickerman's cheek.

The scorers:

For Crusaders:

Tries: Tuiali'i

Pens: Carter 4

Drop: Carter

For Waratahs:

Tries: Turner 2

Cons: Beale

Yellow card: Thorn, punching (Crusaders, 55 min)

Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Scott Hamilton, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Richard McCaw (c), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

Replacements: 16 Steve Fualau, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Reuben Thorne, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Kahn Fotuali'i, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Sean Maitland.

Waratahs: 15 Sam Norton-Knight, 14 Lachlan Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Dan Vickerman, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.

Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Will Caldwell, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Matt Carraro, 22 Timana Tahu.

Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)

Touch judges: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)

TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

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