12 Mar

You can't always get what you want
by Rob Wallace
12 Mar 2002

Particularly when the Crusaders turn up with their A game. The Blues may have the talent, the players and the will but the one thing this game showed was the benefit of teamwork and organisation as the Crusaders controlled the game and came away with a deserved 30-11 win.

There was little to complain about in the Crusaders performance. The pack controlled the ball without ever really dominating the Blues, Mehrtens maintained their field position with accurate kicking and they clinically took the few chances they had. The Crusaders defence did a mighty job and left the Blues frustrated as they failed to get any momentum going.

It began up front – while the front rows were relatively even, apart from some instability created by Feek, at no time did the Crusaders appear troubled by the Blues. Thorne and McCaw had the better of the loose ball, while Mehrtens made sure the Blues were always on the back foot. Aaron Mauger had another good game, while the remaining Crusaders backs had few opportunities. But the Crusaders defence was back to its Brumbie-blocking best. The Blues were unable to create any play, receiving the ball on the back foot, Spencer continually under pressure, and the midfield tied down. The pack was unable to recycle the ball and create continuity and all this pressure produced the errors and turnovers the Crusaders needed.

The Blues still don’t have their team balanced properly. Flavell is wasted at lock and Rush is out of his depth competing with test players like McCaw, Thorne and Robertson, as is Parkinson, though to be fair most opensiders look poor in a when their pack isn’t performing. Despite Taylor’s leadership and drive, he is not a dominant lineout figure and the Blues need to review this area of their game.

The biggest problem is the enigma of Spencer. When the Crusaders shut him down on Saturday, they appeared to snuff the entire pattern and inventiveness out of the Blues and no one had any idea what to do next. The introduction of Arlidge changed that a bit and perhaps while Rupeni is unfit the Blues may consider moving Muliaina to wing and Spencer to fullback. There is also the possibility of Spencer and Arlidge swapping positions during the game where appropriate.

In other games the Highlanders continue to look like SF prospects with a good 40-8 win over the Cats, the Chiefs lacked the firepower to overcome a tough Reds team losing 13-27 while the Horrorcanes copped a backlash from the Stormers.

The messiest area of the game remains the referee. There is no consistency in the way yellow cards are handed out. Hammett received a penalty for a left hook, while players were carded for more minor offenses in other games. In view of the dramatic effect that removing a player can have, I would like the refs to be much more reticent with both yellow and red cards, but to be backed up with a toughened, independent judiciary with real teeth.The tackled ball situation is also too variable.

From John Mitchell’s point of view it is good to see improving performances from most of the NZ teams. Areas of weakness still appear to be No8 and centre while players like Cullen really need to be injury free to try to win their places back. And I wonder how Alatini is feeling about his move to Wellington?

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