Crusaders vs Waratahs – Super Rugby – 1 February 2020

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Without looking to exert effort the Crusaders cruised to a decent lead at half-time of 24-6. They ran in 3 tries in the process with great ease. The Waratahs just never really stood a chance.

It looked to be a routine butchering of an Australian Super Rugby team by a New Zealand Super Rugby team. Mark Nawaqanitawase didn’t like that idea and in a few short minutes pulled the Waratahs from 24-6 down to 24-18. There was hope…

The Crusaders machine is however something that just dazzles spectators and stuns opponents. They do something that has been hailed by all rugby pundits globally praise them for: superior basic skills executed with accuracy at pace.

People often read “basic skills” as they can really pass and catch like pros. That is however only a drop in the bucket of what good basic skills entail. That is however a story for another post.

The quick short kick off from the 22 on about 65 minutes and the try that followed showed how broad “basic skills” can be.

The part that I must still figure out over the coming weeks is how they are so damn efficient at taking an opponent and dismantling them so effortlessly. All opponents come to play the Crusaders with great intent. It does however look like the Crusaders simply sum up opponents… take their strong points and turn it into mush over the course of a game.

They put the “cruise” in Crusaders

It is very early in the season, but it would be difficult to imagine the Crusaders not lifting the trophy at the end of the season again. Many teams will still get used to the pace, sort out some errors and put up a good fight, but the Crusaders are already so far ahead! …again…

The Crusaders look like they are just in The Zone all of the time. They always seem to have time on the ball, acres of space, support runners aplenty and a defense that washes over every offensive effort.

There are two parts that stand out to me in how they really crush opponents:

  1. The basic skills are near flawless – tackle technique, ruck work, passing, catching, kicking running at gaps, closing down space on defense…
  2. Their skill when they don’t have the ball – seeing a situation unfolding either on defense or on the attack and getting into position. It sounds like a simple sentence, but they are in position for each situation way before their opponents

They are set apart by doing #1 at an absolute top level, but #2 they rarely mess up. People don’t see it as a skill and very few teams outside New Zealand value it but just think about it… Is there ever NOT someone to pass to? When that cross-kick is done is there ever a wing out of place? Are they ever short on numbers on cross-defense? Do they often succumb to overlaps or holes in the middle of defense?

Waratahs better than what the score said

The Waratahs somehow messing up a 4 on 2 about 5 minutes into the 2nd half didn’t help their cause. That was a glaring mistake and the steady decline in the power of a scrum that dominated at the start showed what the Crusaders do to you.

They showed a couple of signs of promise throughout the game often carving open a usually watertight Crusaders defense. This showed that there definitely was enough in that backline to cause damage. Once lines were breached it was however a case of a deer in headlights and they just could not finish it off.

How about 19-year-old Mark Nawaqanitawase though! You don’t usually see a player of this age stepping into a Super Rugby game and fight through 3 Crusaders defenders to score in the corner. That wasn’t his only contribution though… that intercept try minutes later turned the game completely on its head!

Players of the game

Crusaders: Scott Barrett (4), Richie Mo’unga (10), Leicester Fainga’anuku (11), Braydon Ennor (13), David Havili (15)

Waratahs: Mark Nawaqanitawase (11), Kurtley Beale (15)

ThysRugby player of the game: Mark Nawaqanitawase – to have the influence he had from the wing in a losing cause at age 19… Brilliant!

Plays of the game

  • The Mark Nawaqanitawase double in short succession. The first being the best in getting through 3 Crusaders and having to improvise to get the ball down and not go into touch
  • Richie Mo’unga being on the field. He was a class act last year. He lost nothing this year
  • Crusaders try from their own 22. Quick thinking, vision, unselfish play and speed

Final verdict

Crusaders: They are 90% there already this early in the season. If they get a little better I don’t have much hope for the rest.

Waratahs: Flashes of promise followed by total disappointment. Their forwards need to take a step up as a pack to give their very lethal backline a chance to shine and get them over the line.