Nemani Nadolo scored three tries in the Crusaders' 52-31 bonus-point victory against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, reports JON CARDINELLI.
The game was in the balance until the 69th minute. It was at this point of the contest when Colin Slade broke the line, surged upfield, and then found Nadolo with a long, spiralling pass.
The massive winger still had some work to do after receiving the ball, but did the necessary to extend the Crusaders' lead and move the visitors into a game-winning position. It was the second of his three tries, but undoubtedly the most important.
Slade was in great form for the Crusaders, both in his decision-making and kicking for goal. It was his accuracy in the latter department that allowed the Crusaders to amass a 19-10 lead and move into a commanding position right before half-time.
Credit should go to the Crusaders pack for winning the set-piece battles and the one on the ground. The Crusaders punished the Cheetahs' mistakes, and were especially good from turnover ball.
It was a breakdown turnover at the end of the first half that led to a try for All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg. The Crusaders then struck right after the break, with another turnover providing the opportunity to attack and score via Nadolo.
Somehow the Cheetahs hit back to score three quick tries in the space of 10 minutes. It was during this period where their attacking threat was highlighted, as forwards and backs combined brilliantly to leave the Crusaders defence with no answer.
But ultimately the Cheetahs would be made to regret their own mistakes. Elgar Watts had kicked well in the injury-enforced absence of Johan Goosen, but missed a simple penalty attempt late in the game that would have given his side the lead.
The Cheetahs defence disintegrated as the end approached. Slade's break and Nadolo's second try secured the four-try bonus point for the visitors, while Nadolo's third on full-time took the Crusaders to 50 points.
Slade, who scored a try of his own in the dying stages, finished the game with a personal tally of 25 points.
The final scoreline flatters the Crusaders, but there's no doubt that they deserved to win this match.
Cheetahs – Tries: Cornal Hendricks, Sarel Pretorius, Teboho Mohoje, Willie le Roux. Conversions: Elgar Watts (4). Penalty: Watts.
Crusaders – Tries: Israel Dagg, Nemani Nadolo (3), Tom Taylor, Colin Slade. Conversions: Slade (4), Tyler Bleyendaal. Penalties: Slade (4).
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Hennie Daniller, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Lappies Labuschagné, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Tom Taylor.
LEATHERMAN SA PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Johann Sadie had a hand in three of the Cheetahs' tries. The No 13 made the linebreak that would culminate in Cornal Hendricks' score in the first half. His individual brilliance sparked another try in the 52nd minute, as he chipped the Crusaders defence, regained possession, and then offloaded to keep the movement going. A clever pass to Willie le Roux in the 59th minute set up yet another try for the Cheetahs, and propelled them into the lead.
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Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images