Crusaders grab much-needed win over Lions

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14 Mar 2015
Crusaders grab much-needed win over Lions

Two quick second-half tries were the difference as the Crusaders bounced back with a 34-6 victory over the Lions in Christchurch.

Dan Carter scored 14 points in a full 80 minutes starting at inside centre as the Crusaders returned to winning ways, grinding down their visitors in the end for a simple enough win - their tenth in their last 11 games against South African opposition.

We've grown used to the Crusaders taking a while to get going in Super Rugby but this year has been uncharacteristically poor in the opening rounds for the seven-time champions, especially with their opening loss at home to the Rebels.

This was much better but some way off perfect, with the returning Kieran Read, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo and Sam Whitelock understandably all adding a touch of class and composure to the home side's work.

All three of Read, Whitelock and Nadolo were involved for Kieron Fonotia's fine try as the passes finally stuck in the second half.

The Lions were eager to prove that last week's success over the Blues wasn't just a fluke, as Warren Whiteley celebrated 150 appearances for the Golden Lions by leading the team out in their unfamiliar black strip. They battled hard, but their scrum issues prevented any possibility of another win on the road and a yellow card for Julian Redlinghuys proved very costly.

Life was made difficult for the visitors with their scrum buckling in the opening quarter as Wyatt Crockett got stuck into Redlinghuys on a couple of occasions to win penalties from referee Nick Briant.

Crockett's strength in fact created the platform for the first try - the home scrum rock solid five metres from the line after Elton Jantjies' loose pass hit his own post and had the Lions in hot water.

Read burst off the back of the eight-man drive and offloaded to Ellis for the first try just down the side of the posts.

More scrum woe for Redlinghuys let Carter add three more points with his first penalty and a second not long after had the hosts well on their way at 13-0.

Jantjies slotted three points off the tee to get the visitors on the board and despite the scrum struggles of Redlinghuys they remained competitive on defence by winning breakdown penalties in their 22 to stop the Crusaders when it mattered.

Even with that stubborn defence from the Lions, the Crusaders' handling out wide left plenty to be desired as little errors undid their attacks. It wasn't hard for the Lions either to map their hosts' preference to get the ball in Nadolo's hands whenever possible.

It's harsh to single out Fonotia, an early replacement for the injured Johnny McNicholl, but his loose pass flying straight out into touch on half-time summed up the problems the Crusaders faced with the ball in hand, with seven handling errors alone in the first half in what assistant coach Tabai Matson described as an 'ugly' performance.

With that message drilled into the Crusaders at the break it was the Lions who started far better in the second half, solidifying their scrum and adding three more points from Jantjies to trail by seven.

Redlinghuys looked to have cleaned up his act but it was short-lived, the tighthead angling in again with referee Nick Briant immediately reaching to the pocket to reduce the Lions to 14.

Carter's resultant penalty clattered back off the post but it actually worked out well for the Crusaders. The mishap turned into five minutes worth of close-range scrums and attacks, the Lions given another scrum warning before the inevitable penalty try.

The Crusaders then went from forward power to skill in the backs, Nadolo with a thundering carry that had the Lions defence scampering back to stop him. Sucking in all those tacklers left a ton of space out wide and the Crusaders pushed it through the hands before Fonotia touched down. Those quick 14 points, two tries in three minutes, decided the contest.

David Havili came on for his Crusaders debut as the Lions tried to get back into the game and put points on the board, but their error count was too high and amount of territory too low to really concern the Crusaders late on.

A tough defeat then for the Lions, who could never gain parity at the set-piece but had plenty of standout performers, especially Jantjies who defended valiantly. The scoreline didn't reflect how hard they worked.

This though was about the Crusaders making progress and starting to show some promise. As Nadolo gets a step quicker and tuned up, so you expect the whole side will get sharper and become a bigger threat too.

Read's bonus-point interception score was just the cherry on the cake of a much-needed victory.