The Crusaders are the best team in Super Rugby because they beautifully combine skill and power with a lot of rugby intelligence, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
It’s tough to beat New Zealand’s finest at the best of times when they run circles around you with their superior speed and power, or when a prop makes an outrageous offload in a tackle. Then you still have to contend with their reading of the play and superior game management.
Sometimes it looks like the Crusaders are from a different planet, grander beings when it comes to playing the game of rugby. Just ask the Bulls’ players, who looked a bit star-struck at times as they were being run ragged at Loftus last Friday.
Sure, the Sharks made the Crusaders seem mortal the week before that, but they had to play out of their skins just to get a draw. The Crusaders are likely to inflict more pain in the South African conference at Newlands on Saturday if the stats are anything to go by.
The Cape side are a mammoth 23 points behind the table-topping Crusaders, who have also scored 23 more tries. The New Zealanders have also conceded seven less tries than the Stormers.
For one, lock Eben Etzebeth certainly knows the challenge facing them on Saturday.
‘They are the most difficult challenge you can have in Super Rugby. Playing against them is like playing for the Springboks against the All Blacks,’ the Springbok No 4 said.
The Stormers’ attack, especially their decision-making and finishing, has let them down this year. They’ve had to depend on moments of individual brilliance to get over the line, while their forwards have also been good at maul time despite an erratic lineout.
They haven’t been too bad on defence, but would also not be comfortable facing a Crusaders team with multiple attacking threats all over the park. They showed against the Bulls that they can score from first phase, turnover ball and even diagonal kicks.
They make great decisions on attack and defence, and they’ve backed it up with accuracy. In short, they hardly make mistakes.
But they are exactly the type of opposition that you want to test yourself against. The Crusaders are the sort of team that can advance players’ World Cup ambitions if they perform. They are a very good team, but not unbeatable.
It’s also the sort of fixture that can give the Stormers a timely shot in the arm to make up some ground on the South African Conference leaders, the Sharks.
‘This is the type of game why you play rugby‚’ Etzebeth said. ‘Tests against the All Blacks and Wallabies and Super Rugby matches against the Crusaders and Hurricanes are why we play.
‘If we beat the Crusaders‚ it would be a big box ticked. Knowing you can beat the top team will give you belief that you can beat any team.’
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