by Rob Wallace
10 Mar 2003
With Carlos Spencer running the game like he had it on a string, and the backline looking sharper than a scalpel, the Blues cleaned up a creaky Crusaders team with a brilliant 39-5 win at Albany. Five points is the least any Crusaders team have ever scored in a S12 game, and that was due to a magnificent defensive effort by the Blues team, who continually pressured the Crusaders into mistakes and gave them no opportunity to use any possession they had.
You could tell something special was happening from the first blitz by Spencer, when he cracked the defensive line, off loaded to Howlett who fed Caucuanibuca, who promptly ripped down the touchline past the surprised Cantabrians to score in the corner. It looked so easy but it was done with tremendous pace and timing.
There’s a saying that good teams make their own luck, and the ball bounced nicely for the Blues all night, while the hapless Crusaders knocked on, missed tackles and made sundry other minor errors. About the only place the Crusaders had clear ascendency was the scrums.
Even what is presumed to be the top All Black loose trio had trouble containing the Blues. McCaw had a quiet game and was shaded by Braid, Thorne was nowhere to be seen while Robertson was outplayed by Gus Collins who is unaccustomed to No8 play. Robertson may have scored the only try, but his embarassing razor’ gesture has long worn out its welcome, and looks as tired and dull as the Crusaders backline is.
The Crusaders pack won enough ball, and we’ve seen them win games in the past with less possession, but they were unable to do anything with it. Anything they did do was snuffed out by the Blues defence, and they were unable to come up any creative play, especially in the backline. Even Brad Thorn was kept quiet, and Tuitupou provided great moments when smashed Thorn, and later Feek, back with some piledriving tackles.
The Blues forwards competed well and won enough ball to let the backs score the tries, but they were also responsible for the heart and organisation of the defence which was the key to winning the match. The backline was fantastic. Spencer played the best game from a 1st5 in NZ for several years, Tuitupou straightened the line and looked for gaps, while Muliaina held it all together and serviced the lethal back 3, all of whom finished beautifully.
It was a lovely style of rugby to watch, well removed from the patterned play of the Brumbies, or the pressure and choking style of the Crusaders.
In other games the Highlanders beat the Bulls, with the OH front row starting to look pretty damn good. Jonah returned for the Hurricanes in their win over the Stormers but looked way out of form and very disinterested. The Warratahs had a good win in SA over the Sharks, while the Brumbies looked lost and patternless without several of their key players. And finally in the battle at the bottom the Chiefs beat the Reds.by