QUICK TAP: HAVE YOU SEEN 'FEED THE BACKS'?
There were three key areas that anchored the Crusaders victory. The first was their unflappable set piece play. In the scrum, the Crusaders tight five bullied the Hurricanes pack with superior technique and lifted their intensity at crucial moments in the contest. In the lineouts, the Crusaders showed great precision to win the lineout battle despite missing two All Blacks locks in Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett.
Another crucial area was the ruck battle. The Crusaders dominated the contact area by making the best use of their artillery. If a player was committed to a ruck, he was there for a reason. If you weren’t foraging for the ball then you were blowing over the top of the ruck or generally making a nuisance of yourself to slow down the ball.
The third key area was the Crusaders line speed on defence. Beauden Barrett had been given a free reign to run and crosskick all year, but not against the Crusaders. Led by mid-fielder Ryan Crotty, the Crusaders were flat and fast on defence to completely negate the ‘Barrett factor’. Great ball players need time, and the Crusaders made Barrett rush his game.
The Crusaders dominance started up front and extended across the park. The Hurricanes big attacking threats were nullified and they were kept try-less for the first time in the season.
If the Lions can replicate the Crusaders game-plan, then the series could be up for grabs. But there is another factor which could also prove crucial – the weather.
The New Zealand winter hasn’t fully hit yet and we have largely played dry conditions so far. The Lions are coming off the back of a season playing in the cold and wet and will relish the chance to mix it with the New Zealand sides in wet conditions.
We have seen such an attacking mind-set in Super Rugby that I’m not sure our sides are ready to play wet weather rugby. It’s not pretty but sometimes you have to grind out. If we get hit by another weather bomb, will we be able to match the Lions in a war of attrition?
One thing is for sure though, whatever happens we are set for a cracker of a series between the Lions and the All Blacks. The clock is ticking, I can’t wait for it to begin!