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Hurricanes blitzed in Crusaders holy war
Hurricanes blitzed in Crusaders holy war
(Bonus effort blows away breezy tackling)
There should be a solemn mood in the Hurricanes camp this week after their 48-20 hammering at the hands of the Crusaders at WestpacTrust Stadium on Saturday night.

The seven tries to two defeat could not have come at a worse time for the erratic team, who have dashed, raised and dashed the hopes of their supporters time and time again.

Bad as the defeat was, it was made doubly worse due to the combination of lethargy and ineptitude that marked their display in front of a supportive Wellington crowd.

This correspondent missed the actual exchange, but it was reported that Hurricanes captain Gordon Slater indicated to Sky TV afterwards he would "go home and milk the cows tomorrow". If so, Slater may be advised to seek guidance from his bovine friends, principly in the areas of commitment, support play and finishing off.

Indeed, the Hurricanes could count themselves fortunate not to have conceded 50 points to their rampaging opponents. The Crusaders, by all reasonable analysis, were surely more focused and determined in their attitude to the game.

Two well-executed tries to Marika Vunibaka and a penalty to Andrew Mehrtens led to the Hurricanes being down 15 points in the first 10 minutes. Once again, a team this correspondent supports needed to rise from a position of disadvantage.

Again the Hurricanes responded, with a commendable try to Pita Alatini, converted by David Holwell, who also added a couple of penalties. Behind 15-13, hope was on the rise, one might think.

But even as the home side made inroads into the Crusaders half with a storming run by Jonah Lomu, they went on the back foot with an old-fashioned turnover. The Crusaders capitalised (no pun intended) on the home side's loss of momentum, making their way back into the Hurricanes half, resulting in a try to Aaron Mauger, converted by Andrew Mehrtens once more. At 22-13, the Crusaders were on a roll.

Another error (a fumble by Kupu Vanisi as the Hurricanes attacked) threw the ball back to the visitors. Within minutes, they had demolished the Hurricanes defence, sneaking the ball out of a lineout and running through to put Justin Marshall in for Mehrtens' conversion. It provided the bonus point for the Crusaders, looking all too easily gained.

Yet the Hurricanes showed signs of promise, with some snappy passing in the backs and well-judged place kick by Christian Cullen. For all his improving general play, he needed a good game to restore his damaged reputation after failing to ground the ball in-goal for a try last week.

Unfortunately, the ball was lost forward as the Hurricanes were on attack and for the last few minutes they were back on defense. Had Mehrtens kicked a penalty and a dropped goal attempt, the 29-13 half-time margin might have been bigger.

The Crusaders clearly dominated the territory, possession and rucks and mauls during the first half and were looking to build on this in the second spell. And so they did, with Leon MacDonald crossing for an unconverted try early in the second half. A missed drop goal by Mauger kept the score at 34-13, while the Hurricanes attempted to redeem themselves.

With one of the best passing movements of the game, the crowd were delighted to see the Hurricanes showing their full potential, with Ricky Flutey scoring a try near the posts, adding the conversion. At 34-20, in the age of the five-point try, the Hurricanes were surely still in the hunt.

But not for much longer. With five minutes to go, the Crusaders penetrated into the Hurricanes 22, with Brad Mika scoring a thundering try, completely overpowering weak opposition from the Hurricanes defence. Mika raised his hand to the crowd as he rose from his effort, which virtually guaranteed Ben Blair a conversion.

The final straw for the Hurricanes came with two minutes to go: Nathan Mauger's converted try the result of virtually no defensive effort from the Hurricanes at all. Mauger had a clean run to the line and this sorry sight of a major Super 12 team weakly conceding a try was disheartening to watch.

The Crusaders tried to break 50 points but after a surprise turnover to the home side, contented themselves with containing Jonah Lomu, who was suffocatingly marked during the game. His break showed promise, but lacked support and the move ended in touch, as did the game.

This correspondent is admittedly hard to please, but respectfully submits that Graham Mourie has several areas to focus on from this match, if the Hurricanes are to finish the Super 12 with respectability:

Firstly, general attitude. The Hurricanes looked far too relaxed during most of the game. One could argue that it isn't positive to have the team too wound up, but against the Crusaders, there seemed little urgency to get to the ball during both halves.

Secondly, support play. There were too many times during the game when the Hurricanes made good breaks, only to see them break down through lack of backing up. Attitude is linked with this.

Finally, in the words of generations of rugby coaches at all levels: "Tackle, Tackle, Tackle." Several of the Crusaders' tries were directly linked to casual defence on the part of the Hurricanes, in fact embarrassingly so in some instances. Tackling should be legal and fair, but let's not forget the rules of the game do allow it to be physical! Again, this is all tied up with attitude.

What of the Crusaders, who are still on a roll? Reuben Thorne was understated in the after-match interview, pleased with the victory and looking forward to the next game. With these results he can well afford to be collected and conservative. It could take quite an effort to stop their momentum.

In the meantime, the Hurricanes continue to blow hot and cold. While the rest of the Rugbyheads team have carried on their work over the past few months, this correspondent remained in hibernation, in no small part through the inability of certain top-level teams to rise to their potential when needed. While it would be premature to resume that state after one game "back in the fold", it would also be fair to describe the Hurricanes performance on Saturday as distinctly chilling.

It's time for them to bring some sustained heat into Super 12 2002 and to show the three countries involved just what a team from this region can do. Let's have some furnace-style temperatures from within the Hurricanes squad and make sure that it doesn't just end in a lot of hot air.


Let us know what you think!

Good to see you back on the site Jed, shame it's too late to save your beloved Hurricanes.

As for Slater talking to his cows, maybe that's where the Hurricanes got their defensive line from...

Supposedly this article has been viewed times since we bothered to start counting*.
(Although it could have just been on the Reload button doing some serious ego padding!)