Crusaders stunned by Force, Chiefs hang on   25 Apr 2006

Ellie van Baaren

ROUND 11 REVIEW: It wasn’t the greatest of weekends for the New Zealand Super 14 teams. The Chiefs hung on by the skin of their teeth, the Hurricanes went down to the Brumbies, the Sharks put the final nail in Auckland’s coffin but the biggest shock was what almost happened to the Crusaders.

So the Crusaders aren’t unbeatable after all. There were red faces all round after the winless Western Force almost pulled off a stunning upset against the unbeaten Crusaders. But for a questionable TV ref’s decision in the dying minutes, the Force would have ended the match with a win.

The Crusaders were off for the entire match and went into half time 20-6 down in front of a vocal Perth crowd. A characteristic second half comeback ensured the Crusaders drew level, but they couldn’t quite pull of a last-minute win.

It was a timely reminder to both the defending champions and jaded Super 14 spectators that anything is possible.

From the Crusaders’ point of view it’s better they got this sort of shock now, ahead of their tour of South African duty, than in a match that could knock them out of the competition altogether.

When you’re so far out in front, it becomes inevitable that complacency will set in and it takes something like Saturday’s scare to remind you that you can’t take anything for granted.

The result meant the Crusaders couldn’t capitalise on their nearest rivals, the Waratahs, having a bye and are now four points out in front.

Next week they face the Stormers in Cape Town and they may the ones unlucky enough to feel the consequences of the Crusaders’ close call.

The Hurricanes stayed in third position on the table but lost to fourth-placed Brumbies. It was a bruising game and the Wellingtonians did nothing to disgrace themselves, however they never looked like winning either. A win would have cemented them in the top four with three rounds left, however, now they must stay sharp to avoid any nasty surprises that take them out at the last hurdle.

This weekend they will face a Chiefs team depleted by injury but busting to make their way into the top four. The Chiefs need at least a win, but preferably five points, to stay in contention while the Hurricanes are not yet in a "must-win" scenario, but cannot afford to lose, especially considering they are still to face the Waratahs.

The Chiefs came out of round 11 with a win against the Cheetahs, but it was mighty close. Once again it was a case of racing out to a handy lead then giving it away through unforced errors.

The Chiefs were up 21-3 after just 15 minutes on Saturday then took the foot of the gas and gifted the opposition two tries just a few minutes later.

With just 10 minutes left on the clock, the Chiefs found themselves 33-32 up. They dug in and held on, but I don’t envy Chiefs coach Ian Foster, being on the sidelines can’t have been easy.

The result leaves the Chiefs in sixth position on 27 points, behind the Sharks only on points differential and behind the fourth-placed Bulls by one competition point.

The Blues, however, are virtually out of the playoff race after going down to the Sharks. At ninth place on the table and 10 points shy of the fourth-placed team, the Blues are the worst performing New Zealand team this year.

Doug Howlett’s try in the first minute was a promising beginning in very humid Durban, However, it was not a sign of things to come as the Sharks proved to be simply more efficient and effective.

I hope the Highlanders made the most of their bye last weekend as they now face an equally well-rested Waratahs team. Things won’t get any easier as they then must face the Brumbies at home in Canberra.

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