Vodacom Super 14

Crusaders still in the hunt

2009-05-16 12:44
Cool as you like - Leon MacDonald (Gallo Images)

Auckland - A late drop goal by Leon MacDonald kept the Crusaders in the Super 14 finals hunt when they salvaged a 15-13 win over the Blues after two crucial rulings went against them.

In a match that went down to the wire, the veteran fullback MacDonald was the hero for the defending champions, kicking all their points from four penalties before landing the match-winning drop goal just minutes from the final whistle.

In a cliff-hanger end to the round-robin competition, the win lifted the Crusaders to third but they could slip to fifth depending on the performances of the Hurricanes and Sharks later in the weekend.

In a match-up between the two fiercest rivals in New Zealand rugby, the Crusaders were desperate for a win at any cost, while the Blues were playing for pride with their semi-final hopes long gone.

Between them they produced an error-ridden game that did not rise to great attacking heights, and the Crusaders never looked like securing the bonus point that would have guaranteed them a semi-final berth.

Instead the game was largely a kicking duel between MacDonald and Blues flyhalf Jimmy Gopperth who landed two penalties and converted the sole try in the match by Isaia Toeava which put the Blues ahead 13-12 in the 72nd minute.

But Crusaders captain Richie McCaw said scoring tries was not his side's prime concern.

"I'm pretty proud of the way the guys stuck to it, especially when we ended up behind with (eight) minutes to go," he said.

"We had to get a win first and we weren't going to be scoring four tries tonight. We've done what we can and now we sit back and hope for the best."

The Crusaders' best try-scoring opportunity was snuffed out by the match television official Chris Pollock who said it was not clear whose hands were on the ball when Michael Paterson dived over early in the second half.

Referee Bryce Lawrence questioned the decision, saying only one player could have had the ball, indicating Paterson, but Pollock was adamant the replays he saw were inconclusive.

When asked to rule on Toeava's try, Pollock was certain he had touched down although the replays were not clear.

The first half was a dour encounter as the Blues, the best attacking unit in the competition, searched for a battle plan that would crack the Crusaders who have the best defensive record.

But they could not find a way through, and it was the Crusaders who worked their way into the best scoring opportunity only for Stephen Brett to be brought down just short of the line.

The first half scoring was left to two MacDonald penalties to one by Jimmy Gopperth.

Further penalties in the second half saw the Crusaders extend their lead to 12-6 before Toeava's try put the Blues in front for a brief period before MacDonald settled the outcome.


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