Crusaders’ aura scared Lions

If ever I have seen the history of a jersey spook a team then it was at Ellis Park, says MARK KEOHANE.

This is the worst Crusaders team since their disastrous inaugural season in 1996. And they played like they have all season – impotent on attack and devoid of confidence – and somehow won by 21 points.

The Crusaders were clever in their approach. They refused to play rugby within 50m of their goal line because of the goal-kicking threat of Marnitz Boshoff. They were also disciplined at the breakdown and Boshoff’s first goal-kicking opportunity came in the 48th minute.

It was indicative of the Lions night that Boshoff missed for only the third time in seven matches this season.

Other than the discipline in not giving Boshoff goal-kicking practice, the Crusaders were awful, which tells you the magnitude of the Lions' ineptness on this occasion.

The Lions, in their four season victories, have played with vigour, enterprise and without fear. They have also played most of their home matches with their pack on the front foot. They also enjoyed the luxury of Stuart Berry’s officiating in the wins against the Blues and Reds. These were matches when the referee interpretation favoured the Lions.

Not so against the Crusaders. Both teams got a fair crack from referee Marius van der Westhuizen.

The Lions, as a team, have been better than the Crusaders this season. The Crusaders, with a handful of quality All Blacks, enjoyed the greater reputation.

But with the exception of lock Sam Whitelock, few of those big-name All Blacks have even started playing this season, so ineffective has been their performance.

Whitelock was decent at Ellis Park without being imposing and Israel Dagg was good, at best. Andy Ellis was competitive and Colin Slade was workmanlike.

There was absolutely nothing exceptional about the Crusaders because of the limitations of the current mob.

The Crusaders showed intent to play with width but they don’t have the quality of player to break a defence and single-handedly destroy the opposition. There is no Sonny Bill Williams, no Robbie Freuan, no Dan Carter, no Zack Guilford … The back division that started at Ellis Park, as a unit, rank as the worst the Crusaders have produced since 1996 and the pack, as a unit, was little better.

But the Lions were spooked by the name of the team and not the individuals who made up the team at Ellis Park.

It was so disappointing because the talk all week was that the Lions backed their own quality against a team that has not performed this season.

Yet for the first hour the Lions played as if in awe of the opposition and they seemed to be waiting for the Crusaders to produce the awe-inspiring performances synonymous with those champion Crusaders teams of a decade ago.

This was a match the Lions rightly were expected to win and even after an hour of no performance they still only trailed 13-7.

There was a brief flurry around the 60-minute mark when the Lions played with the confidence of a team with a winning habit and the Saders fell off tackles, as they have done for most of the season. I thought the Lions would score, take a 14-13 lead and win comfortably in the final quarter. Instead the Lions suffered from stage fright and white-line fever in squandering chances and turning over possession. And it was the Crusaders who, without ever being dominant, scored 15 unanswered points, to win for the third time in five visits to Ellis Park.

The Lions, for the first time in a decade, were rightly being trumpeted as champs in the build-up to this match but they produced a performance more appropriate with chumps.

How terribly, terribly disappointing.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images