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Friday, March 4, 2011

After tears, sunshine for Crusaders in Nelson

After tears, sunshine for Crusaders in Nelson

RICHARD KNOWLER IN NELSON
Last updated 05:00 05/03/2011
 
Sonny Bill Williams of the Crusaders beats the tackle of Dave Dennis and Ben Mowen of the Waratahs at Trafalgar Park.
 
Even the Tasman sky failed to choke back the tears yesterday.

Never in the history of the New Zealand rugby has a match been charged with so much sorrow as when the Crusaders faced the Waratahs at Trafalgar Park last night and, appropriately, tears dropped from the heavens.

This week Brad Thorn said it was rugby that helped clear the skies during the bad times and for 80 minutes it helped Crusaders fans think about something else in Nelson.

The Crusaders 33-18 triumph against the Waratahs was the tonic they needed.

It almost defies belief that the Crusaders were able to muster the courage to win this, having watched their fellow Cantabrians experience so much grief after the February 22 earthquake that savaged Christchurch.

Yet, somehow, they did.

Having earlier linked arms with their coaches, management and board members to remember those killed last November's Pike River coalmine explosion and last month's earthquake they started like a team that had experienced too many sleepless nights.

They were nervy and flinging poor passes – it was Sonny Bill Williams' botched transfer to Dan Carter in front of his own sticks that led to Tom Carter diving over in the corner following a scrum.

Then, suddenly, they shrugged off the cloak of doom that has hung over them and their fellow Mainlanders, and monster centre Robbie Fruean sparked the revival in front of 10,500 supporters.

After trailing 6-13, the Crusaders burst out to a 26-13 lead with the light-fingered Fruean intercepting a pass and then diving over for his second after a final pass from midfield mate Williams in the space of a couple of minutes.

Carter's immaculate boot did the rest, the first five-eighth nailing both conversions and three penalties in contrast to his opposite Daniel Halangahu who was sacked as goal kicker after missing three penalties.

Fruean ripped through the Waratahs' defence like a wildman on the angry juice and it was inevitable after he slashed through tackles of Luke Burgess, Kane Douglas and Dave Dennis immediately after the halftime bell that a try would follow.

Then Williams, in his first match back since recovering from a stress fracture to his leg, finished the movement off; the big man finally started to warm up his jet shoes in the second spell as he unhooked several deadly offloads, while his forward pack monstered their opponents in the set pieces and the loose.

Most impressive was the Crusaders scrum which left the Waratahs' tight five embarrassed, and having recovered his confidence after missing some early tackles, young openside flanker Matt Todd proved as annoying as a bed bug at the breakdown.

The importance of this win is difficult to understate; not only did it give the Crusaders their first win of the year, it also gave their supporters a chance to concentrate on something, even for just 80 minutes, instead of the earthquake.

It also signalled to coach Todd Blackadder that his men have the mental resolve to chase the Super title. Earthquakes or not.

Crusaders 33 (Robbie Fruean 2, Sonny Bill Williams tries; Dan Carter 4 pens, 3 conv) NSW Waratahs 18 (Tom Carter, Luke Burgess, Afa Pakalani tries; Kurtley Beale pen). HT: 26-13

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