9th April, 2001 (1am NZST, bugger getting up for that! I watched the 6am replay instead.)
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Ref: George Eeot (not sure on spelling, but it was some balding little Aussie fella who I hadn't seen before)
Score: Crusaders 42 - Bulls 29
This was a must win game for the Crusaders. They need to win both their remaining home games and can only afford to drop one of their away games if they are going to muscle their way into some playoff action this season. Given they have away games against the Stormers, Waratahs and Highlanders yet to come they really can't afford to lose to Super12 whipping boys, the Bulls.
Not to say that the Bulls are really that bad, they have some great players (any team with Joost Van Der WestHausen on it can't be discounted) and have only really been thrashed once this season, they just seem to have real confidence problems and be terribly error prone!
Fortunately for the Crusaders they were no different today. While competing hard for most of the game they just couldn't get it together when it mattered, turning it over at crucial times and committing silly penalties which allowed the Crusaders back into the match.
Mehrt's didn't play due to having the flu (no mention of Suzy this time, but I'm suspicious) which was a sham as I was keen to see what sort of response the Bulls home crowd were going to give him after the infamous "bird" incident last time we played there, but alas that wasn't to be.
Aaron Mauger (or Erin Mawger as the SA commentator's called him, I agree the spelling of "Major" doesn't make the pronunciation that obvious but surely they could have done a little homework!) filled in at no. 10 and played well. He scored a nice try but he did show a real lack of experience kicking at altitude, with his first few kick-offs going way to deep and at least one of his touch finding penalty kicks going dead in-goal.
The Bulls definitely had me concerned for the first 50 minutes of the match.
With about 10 minutes to go in the first half, and the scores tied at 6 all Brad Thorn got sent to the bin for a dubious late-tackle/charge call (he definitely tackled the kicker but whether he was comitted already or charged rather than tackling is open to debate, it looked ok to me).
During the time that they were down to 14 men the Crusaders conceded two tries and a penalty to put them down 21-6. Ben Blair managed to slot another penalty goal, and Justin Marshall slotted a cheeky drop-goal when he knew the ref was playing advantage to make it 21-12 at the break. The SA commentator had the nerve to claim that Marshall kicked it because he wasn't confident in Blair's goal kicking ability. By my count Blair went 9/11 for the game, slotting 6 penalties and converting all 3 tries!
The tide turned in the second half though, and the Crusaders put more pressure on the Bulls and they cracked, letting in 3 tries (to Blair, Mauger and Ralph) and giving up another couple of penalties. The Bulls only managed one more penalty and a late (unconverted) consolation try in the second half, although the butchered a couple of good chances, include Joost knocking on ingoal when all he had to do was fall on the ball (I think he was trying to make the kick easier but fumbled it picking it up).
A couple of other points about the match. Some of the substitutions were a bit screwy. The Crusaders dominated in the scrums and had just secured a 5m scrum on the Bulls line, before the scrum packed down hooker Matt Sexton was subbed for Andrew Hoare, even though Sexton was not obviously injured. Not to surprisingly the new combination didn't get it right in such a pressure situation and the Bulls were able to screw that scrum and get the feed.
Also there was no specialist outside back on the Crusaders bench, only Nathan Mauger (or is the Mawger?), who is a mid-fielder. Given Ralph is no longer playing in the mid-field this cut down our options if there had been an injury. (I guess Gibson could move to wing or fullback, but that's not really ideal).
On the Bulls side they made a very interesting sub late in the game, taking off a loosie and bringing on a half-back, with Joost moving onto the side of the scrum. I know he plays like an extra loose forward but that's taking it a bit far!
I was also amused by the commentators comment when the camera picked out some kiwi fans in the crowd, one of which was holding a sign saying "Hi to Alex from Karori". The commentator said, in a dry SA accent, "someone can't spell Kalihari!". A(t least I hope he was joking!)
Anyway, a good away win for the Crusaders and like the subject line says, the Bulls maintain their perfect record, they are now 0 wins from 6 matches.