Crusaders wary of Chiefs
An appraisal of Kieran Read’s body language suggested he wasn’t a jubilant winner.
While the Crusaders were terrific in the atrocious weather that threatened to convert AMI Stadium into a swamp during the Super Rugby quarterfinal on Saturday night, No 8 Read gave off a vibe that indicated it would pay to keep that 17-0 victory over the Highlanders in perspective.
The Crusaders, who will host the Chiefs in the semi in Christchurch next weekend, may potentially be only 160 minutes away from winning their first title in eight years but Read has played professional rugby long enough to know it’s pointless, and potentially risky, to start chest-beating too soon.
Given the way the Crusaders forwards throttled the life out of their opponents in the set pieces, with their relentless pick-and-goes and attitude in defence, it could be said that the Chiefs should brace themselves for a clobbering.
But Read refused to get too fizzed-up when asked if the Crusaders’ steamrolling of the Highlanders had given their opponents something to fear.
‘‘Who knows? Our role is to turn up and play well,’’ he said. ‘‘We have got to do the same, we can’t really rest on what has happened tonight.’’
He’s spot-on with that assessment. Just because the Chiefs must negotiate jetlag and a change in time zones for the second time in a week after their scratchy 17-11 win over the Stormers in Cape Town, the Crusaders should be cautious.
The past cannot be ignored on that count. Although they beat the Chiefs 31-24 in a torrid round-robin encounter in Fiji on May 19, it pays to measure that against history, with the Crusaders losing semifinal games against their Hamilton-based arch-rivals in 2012 and 2013, albeit on their turf at Waikato Stadium.
Unlike the Crusaders, who repeatedly pulverised the Highlanders defensive line with their big ball carriers in the driving rain and mud, the Chiefs were sloppy with possession in the dry conditions at Newlands.
As well as perfecting their game plan, which required Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, David Havili and Israel Dagg to kick accurately, the Crusaders had clout in the lineouts; they gobbled four of the Highlanders’ throws, with Read stealing a couple, but will be on their guard against a Chiefs setpiece that will possess 2.04m lock All Black Brodie Retallick.
Coach Scott Robertson and lock Luke Romano, who formulated the lineout strategies prior to the match, would have been pleased with the outcome.
‘‘In those conditions, getting in the air is probably the most important thing,’’ Read noted.
‘‘That was probably the biggest plan from us, we didn’t want to get stuck on the ground.
‘‘We wanted to get up and put as much pressure on the hooker as we could.’’
Robertson should have almost a full quota of players to choose from.
Openside flanker Matt Todd (finger) and wing Seta Tamanivalu (neck), the latter left the field in the second half, have been cleared of serious injury and should be available to play the Chiefs.
Knowing the players should give themselves every chance to be fully rested by maintaining their routines and sleeping in their own beds, must be a big comfort for the coaching staff.
‘‘The biggest thing for us is to have the same intensity and focus as we did (prior to facing the Highlanders),’’ Robertson said.
‘‘Off the back of a loss (to the Hurricanes on July 15), we were extremely disappointed.
‘‘This was our chance to say ‘how do we go again?’ and probably even more so.’’ At least Joe Moody could laugh about the confusion surrounding his first try for the Crusaders.
Scoring a debut first fivepointer for a team is often a special moment, even more so when you have waited four years and 60 Super Rugby appearances for the drought to end.
So when Crusaders loosehead prop Joe Moody rose from a steaming heap of grimy bodies in the first half of the quarterfinal against the Highlanders at AMI Stadium on Saturday night the adrenaline must have been really firing through his system.
And then a voice boomed over the public announcement system, declaring he wasn’t the one who had struck the jackpot.
That try, we were told, was scored by Kieran Read, raising a water-logged cheer from the 10,000 hardy souls who braved the driving rain and wind to watch the Crusaders beat the Highlanders 17-0. A disbelieving Moody must have thought his ear drums were bunged-up with water.
‘‘The boys have a wee joke about it – it was my first Super Rugby try and then I didn’t even get any credit for it. It was announced that it was Reado’s,’’ he said with a rueful smile.
For the record Read was happy to surrender the five-pointer to its rightful owner: ‘‘He (Moody) doesn’t want that stolen off him – his first try.’’
All Black Moody knows his job isn’t to score tries. But he still enjoyed getting this plum, even though the distance travelled was measured in centimetres rather than metres. Exactly what he would do to celebrate the big moment post-match remained a secret: ‘‘Nothing I can tell you.’’ So, for several reasons, it was a satisfying night.
‘‘One – getting the try, and also the performance of the team,’’ Moody emphasised. ‘‘Clearly it was a forward-orientated game and it really felt like we asserted some dominance in that area, really controlled the game.’’
As the rain pelted down in the afternoon prior to kick-off, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson called a meeting and confirmed he wanted his forwards to be like bulldozers in the wet by inching their way over the advantage line with the ball safely tucked under their wings. Moody wasn’t complaining. ‘‘Both teams shortened it right up, and were trying to punch the brick walls type of thing. It’s a bit nicer when it is right up the guts, because you can spot where the runners are and just tee-off.’’
Even though he sported swelling on his forehead, collateral damage from the forwardorientated scrapes, Moody had no complaints.
‘‘I tried getting over a ball and someone must have tried to get underneath me,’’ he said in reference to the cause of the wound.