Crusaders talismen Dan Carter and Richie McCaw produced excellent performances as their team hammered the Vodacom Bulls 28-13 in their Super Rugby Qualifier in Christchurch on Saturday morning.
Carter scored 23 points against a Bulls side that was never in the game, and never turned up with any sort of purpose as the scoreline eventually flattered them on a chilly evening.
McCaw was devastating in the loose, and rallied his side to dominate the Bulls in all phases, so much so that for the first 40 minutes the Bulls hardly had a ball to attack with.
In the end the pressure got to the visitors, whose kicking game was woefully off-key and gave away no less than 12 penalties, mostly within range for Carter’s big boot.
It was hardly the game expected of the three-time Super Rugby champs, but it just underlined once again just how important home advantage is, as no South African team has still won in Christchurch since 1997, and on this form, few would argue the Crusaders could win the competition wherever they play.
However, more was expected from a Bulls side who chose to come to Christchurch with a four try win over the Lions, but then never got into the game. Poor kicks, missed lineouts and one-off runners isolating themselves were all characteristics the coaching team would hardly want from any game, but were delivered in overdrive in this match.
It was very apparent that the Crusaders would hit up hard and fast on defence, and too often they caught Bulls attackers behind the advantage line and simply overpowered them with numbers. While the Bulls were never in with a shout at the breakdown, it must be said the Crusaders were allowed to take up space behind the ruck and bordered on offside all too often.
Either way, you play what you are allowed and you adapt to the conditions on the night and the Bulls never did that. They allowed themselves to be bullied at the breakdown, they were static on attack and flyhalf Morne Steyn struggled to launch a kicking game against a team playing with supreme confidence.
Too often Bulls attackers ran at the Crusaders defence alone, only to be shunted back by two defenders, with McCaw looming large at every breakdown. The Crusaders were able to beat the Bulls on numbers on several occasions and in the panic to secure the ball, the penalties came.
It was no surprise that Dan Carter opened the scoring with two kicks early on for a 6-0 lead, before some more poor Bulls play gave the ball to the Crusaders to launch their only try of the game.
Carter was supreme here again, as he drew Dean Greyling and Steyn made a poor choice on defence, going inward and leaving a massive gap for Carter to shoot the ball to Zac Guildford, who ran in for the try untouched.
Another penalty made it 16-0 and it was all over bar the shouting, although at least Steyn did get the team on the board before the break to go in 16-3.
The Bulls looked more focused in the second half, and to their credit they never gave up, but execution is the hallmark of their game and even then they didn’t have it as the Crusaders were able to repell their attacks with ease.
Carter made it 22-3 with two more penalties as the whistle continued to kill off the Bulls hopes before they finally wormed their way over from a lineout drive with Dewald Potgieter scoring.
Carter added another before the Bulls finally had some luck go their way as Zane Kirchner picked up a loose pass that evaded the defence and let Wynand Olivier run in for the try.
Carter sealed the victory with a last minute penalty, and the Bulls trudged off homewards after knowing they were well beaten, and failed to pitch for the most important game of the season.
Given they lost so many key players in 2011, the season will probably be deemed a success for the Pretoria side despite this loss, but it is debatable if certain selections, including the captaincy are the right way forward as they head home.
Crusaders – Try: Zac Guildford. Conversion: Dan Carter. Penalties: Carter (6).
Bulls – Tries: Dewald Potgieter, Wynand Olivier. Penalty: Morne Steyn