Last Word on Rugby, by Scott Hornell.
A ruthless Crusaders team have held off the Chiefs, in a ‘Clash of the Titans’ game in Christchurch. The result decides one of the challengers for the 2017 title. And as the Crusaders earn a Grand Final spot, that side now heads to the *Grand Final next weekend.
Where that is, will be decided in approximately four hours time. That will be as a result of the Lions v Hurricanes match in Johannesburg, but on a cold evening in the South Island of New Zealand, the first of the two semifinals definitely ‘lived up to the Hype’.
Crusaders 27 – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu (2), Israel Dagg, Bryn Hall; Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (2); Penalty Mo’unga
Chiefs 13 Try: Brodie Retallick; Con: Damian McKenzie; Pen: McKenzie (2)
80 minutes of action proved that the home side were in deed the more clinical team. With a lack of possession, the Crusaders managed to take more opportunities, earn more of the critical moments as the Crusaders earn a Grand Final spot next weekend.
Clash of the Titans in Christchurch
“We didn’t have the ball much in that first half, but full credit to the boys.”
“They [Chiefs] really attacked us in that first 50 minutes, and we knew if we could weather that storm, we’d hopefully come out on top in the end,” were the first comments from Sam Whitelock to SkySport post-semifinal.
He will know that his men withstood a very tough challenge. And they did much of it without possession. The game was one where perseverance was key, and the home side held their nerve much better.
Head coach Scott Robertson was very enthused post-match. He knew it was going to be a ‘street fight’ but told SkySport “we got the job done. They held the ball for long periods and we didn’t, and they held us from hitting our mauls, and yeah. They were tough!”
His honesty is relevant, as it matches how even the sides were. Opposing each other were two solid front rows. Two All Black-laden groups, illustrating the strengths of both franchises. In fact, both sides weighed in at 883 kilograms–nothing separated them, apart from the home advantage.
Early running Suited Hosts in Tough Encounter
Crusaders made inroads through good organized recycling of the ball to open with. Nice use of the ball; receivers choosing to pass or run and the good work at linking in the forwards which is what a champion team is made of.
By the 16th minute, with some great offloading, it saw Israel Dagg break up field. His inside pass allowed Bryn Hall to score the opening try.
Then some good wide-passing by the visitors lead to a match-defining moment. On the outside, it gave James Lowe a second to think….and his option to kick in-field was well judged. Tim Nanai-Williams ran hard onto the ball perfectly to cross the line. It looked all but a try, until the super slow-motion playback showed a tiny loss of control.
While accurate, it was possibly an ‘over the top’ call. The try was waived-away. A five meter scrum awarded. Questionable yes, but in the end it then fell to McKenzie to convert a penalty; 10-3.
All Black Mates ‘Scrap it Out’
From an Owen Franks penalty, there was some scrapping with Brodie Retallick. This is the man who knows how to push other players buttons. A fascinating aspect of the game [from an early age] .This game is not so much ‘an All Blacks trial’ as a North v South grudge match.
One positive was that the penalty count was low. Stoppages occurred only due to handling skills or technical infringements. The small number of scrums and less lineouts had the ball in play for long periods. That was a good example of the positive attitude.
Territory was swinging between each team too–not like last weekends quarterfinal against the Highlanders. It was pressure to the highest degree, but the balance at halftime was very close – 10-6.
Aaron Cruden did make a beautiful offload for McKenzie but the half-chances did little to improve the Chiefs position on the scoreboard. Lowe was busy to involve himself, and with Retallick in dominant mood, the team was good in it’s entirety.
One focus point is kicks in play: 25 – 21. Plenty of high and kicks for territory, it was a very fundamental. Damian McKenzie showed his kicking dominance in this area; in attempting to extend the opposition. However, McKenzie was not as effective as required–and that is where the game was ultimately won. The visitors did not take advantage of possession.
Key Moment From Big Crusaders Winger
The key moment was when Seta Taminivalu ‘got angry’. The recently re-signed utility back, he managed a couple of key interjections that changed the matches course. And once he made his presence felt, it was capitalized on.
— Fox Sports Rugby (@FOXRugbyLive) July 29, 2017
Taminivalu was on the outside most often, but when a set-move allowed him time to run at the defense head-on, it was ‘beautiful to watch’. A simple move provided seven points, and it allowed some separation in the scorelines. Bryn Hall then scored to spread the points.
Both of the Crusaders tries came against the run of the play. The tight forward work was relentless. Chiefs breakouts tended to fall flat. Aaron Cruden did plenty right, but in a way ‘he just couldn’t weave his magic’.
Crusaders Tackle Their Hearts Out
The tough Crusaders defense was absorbing as much as the Chiefs could muster. And moments are what this semifinal was built on. Chiefs offense was lapsing, even while possession was in their favour–unfortunately, it was not to be their night.
172 tackles were made by the home side, compared to 57 from the Chiefs. It was a reflection of the mindset but also of the attitude. The Crusaders were prepared for it. And had to prove they were championship material–passed with flying colours.
“There’ll be some sore bodies tomorrow”
Sam Whitelock and Matt Todd did the majority of that work. Everybody played a part, and as the sport progresses, fans and followers might see the game evolve to suit.
Success Now, So ‘Next Challenge’ Please
And with that, the Crusaders must turn an eye to the next semifinal game: Lions v Hurricanes tomorrow morning. Most will go to sleep, not knowing and will arise to a text or email to alert.
It will read…”pack for South Africa. Or…sleep in, you play next weekend at home.
And that will also be exciting for them…..the unknown.
“We’ve just got so close, we want to take a step further,” was the answer from Scott Robertson when asked what he is expecting. “We want to hold it up [the title] and we’ve got the group to do it.
“We trust each other in what we’re doing, we can’t wait for Saturday night.”
Even though Sam Whitelock has not been a part of a successful Crusaders campaign, he has reached a Super Rugby final. That was versus the Waratahs in Sydney.
Crusaders Have Little Finals Experience
That 2014 game is the only experience some of these men now hold. And while tonight’s gameplan was effective, for them, reversing that horror memory of ’14 is one key motivator. Ryan Crotty, who had a very good match, is another who is experienced in finals games, but cannot get too excited in reaching the final.
And for the moment, possibly the celebrations could be quite muted. Finalists yes, but as yet the Crusaders still do not know *who they face. The Crusaders earn a Grand Final spot, but must wait to hear ‘who they dance with’.