Rugby Park, Greymouth
Friday, February 8 2002
It was a mostly fine day with a bit of cloud build up later in the day, and a slight westerly wind down the pitch to take the edge off the heat.
A carnival atmosphere as when any big game comes to the Coast. Queensland were out doing some pre-game warm-ups, but no sign of the Crusaders. A reasonable crowd in, approximately 2,000, but subdued, as in not much cheering and applause for either side, although obviously more for the Crusaders. It doesn't feel the same without Toddy.
I didn't have a very good vantage point, being on what turned out to be the Reds' 5m line on the grandstand touch for the first half.
The Crusaders played in their alternate strip - mostly white with red and black side panels and red socks.
The Reds kicked off. The first five minutes showed solid mid-field defence by both teams, as each back line probed for weaknesses. A Reds charge down brought about a Crusaders scrum just in the Crusaders half. The resulting kick to touch gave away a Reds lineout, which became a Crusaders scrum 15m inside Reds territory. A wrap around move by Aaron Mauger, which broke several tackles, resulted in Ben Blair dropping a bootlace pass right in front of me, and the Reds managed to scramble the ball away. A good start from the Crusaders, and indicative of how they wanted to play this pre-season game.
6 minutes. A penalty deep in the Crusaders half was kicked out by Aaron Mauger to the 8m mark, far side of the ground. With the Crusaders taking the ball off the top, Ben Blair was forced out in goal after what seemed the first try of the match, after another typical Crusaders wrap around move in mid-field.
12 minutes. A Queensland penalty 30m out and just outside of the left-hand upright was kicked for touch, with the lineout on the Crusader 5m line. Quick ball from the lineout provided a lot of space for Elton Flatley to go over under the posts untouched. With the conversion going over easily, it was 0-7 and the crowd had suddenly gone very quiet.
A knock-on from the kick off lead to a Crusader scrum. Some sharp work by the inside backs saw Ben Blair chip and chase through several defenders to score out wide right (in front of me again!). Aaron Mauger's conversion was good and it was suddenly square again, 7-7.
About quarter of an hour had gone, and both teams had settled down, with less mistakes, and more accuracy in setting up, but curiously, there were still some wild passing being attempted.
17 minutes. Flatley kicks a Queensland penalty to within 5m of the Crusaders left-hand touch. Cleanly taken off the top, the ball was moved quickly left across field, then back right to the middle for big lock Nathan Sharpe to almost go over.
20 minutes. Big Totai Kefu scores from a maul set up from a scrum 15m out from the Crusaders line. Flatley's conversion was good, 7-14.
22 minutes. Canterbury lose the ball on the Reds 10m line. The Reds counter attack, leaving fullback Richard Graham an easy run in wide on the left. Flatley misses the conversion, 7-19. With the solid Reds back-line defence looking tough it is hard to see how the Crusaders are going to score again.
The Crusaders come roaring back with only a desperate kick from the Reds 22m line keeping them out.
26 minutes. A poor throw from hooker Tom Murphy leads to the Crusaders disrupting a Reds lineout. A Daryl Gibson breakout results in a chip and chase, which is desperately gathered by halfback Jacob Raulini inside his 5m line. His poor kick goes out on the 5m line and nearly takes out some spectators sitting on the ground in front of me. Unfortunately, the Crusaders knock on from the resulting lineout giving the Reds a pressure-relieving scrum.
From the kick out, the resulting Crusaders lineout is slow to get the ball back. When is does come a floating forward pass from Nathan Mauger shuts down the move, giving the Reds a midfield scrum. The Reds kick down town. The ball is gathered by Aaron Mauger, who chips for winger Joe Maddock, but gives away a lineout.
35 minutes. A Crusaders scrum on halfway sees Ben Hurst looping around Nathan Mauger, but good Reds defence seems to snuff out the promising move. From the resulting ruck the ball goes wide to Caleb Ralph, who manages to find Nathan Mauger inside supporting. He quickly slips an inside pass to Chris Jack for the score under the posts. And the crowd goes wild. Aaron Mauger's conversion is good, 14-19.
From the kick off the ball goes wide left to Caleb Ralph, who attempts an inside pass to Nathan Mauger inside the Reds' 22m line, but the ball is knocked on. And that's halftime. Looking at the ground clock only 36 minutes have elapsed, so the crowd let their feelings be known to referee Lyndon Bray.
Queensland make a raft of substitutions at halftime, but there is no ground announcement so I was unable to pick up all of the changes.
2 minutes. A Crusaders drive leads to a Crusaders left-hand side lineout inside the Reds' 5m line. A Reds' knock-on leads to a Crusaders scrum. The ball is driven closer to the left-hand upright, resulting in a scrum and a maul. Chris Jack is on hand out wide right to score his second try 10m in from touch. The conversion from Andrew Mehrtens, who must have come on at halftime, is good, 21-19.
A period of solid Crusaders defence ensues, and generally, the Crusaders seem to be much more in control of their own kick-offs.
11 minutes. A not straight call from a lineout from a Reds' penalty gives the Crusaders a scrum. Mehrtens kicks to touch from his own 22m into the Reds' 22m. A scrum to the Crusaders from the Reds' lineout sees the ball swung wide left, then back to the right for replacement Mark Robinson to score in the right-hand corner. Mehrtens misses the conversion, 26-19. The Crusaders make a raft of substitutes themselves, replacing five players.
From this point on there seemed to be a lot of errors creeping into the game with not much else to report. The Crusaders defence was solid, but their attack was not quite as sharp as the first half. This could have been due to the reserves being introduced to the back-line.
Overall, a pleasing effort from the Crusaders, who are usually slow to start and routinely lose to either Queensland or the Reds in an given pre-season game. The forwards looked in control most of the time, and they out-muscled the Reds pack several times, especially around the scrum.
There was some criticism of referee Lyndon Bray by the Reds coach, Mark McBain, and there were some poor calls by Bray, but I think on this showing that the Reds may struggle this year.
(Ayd wrote this, I just posted it!)