Fruean stars in great Crusaders win
For much of last year Robbie Fruean lived in the shadow of Sonny Bill Williams at the Crusaders, but on Sunday he proved he can stand alone as a player with X-factor as he inspired his team to a 37-33 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Waratahs in Sydney.
While the outside centre did produce plenty of moments of magic in his first big season last year, many of his exploits were marked down as the net result of what Williams had created for him. Well, there is no Williams in the Crusaders team now, and yet there was no denying Fruean’s class on Sunday as he produced several moments of individual brilliance that ultimately separated the teams.
Apart from two tries of his own he was also the influential presence in the creation of a third as the Crusaders scored four tries to three to clinch the bonus point win that keeps them well in contention on both the New Zealand conference log and the overall log table. The Crusaders, after their traditional slow start to the season, have now won five of their last six matches and are gathering impressive momentum.
And with legendary All Black captain Richie McCaw making a successful return to the game later in the piece, there is no reason why the Crusaders shouldn’t continue to gather the momentum that they built steadily through a match in which the Waratahs started strongly.
Crusaders flyhalf Tom Taylor missed a long range penalty in the third minute, but although both teams took turns to turn each other’s possession over, it was the Waratahs, stronger in the scrums, who looked the better of the two in the first 10 minutes. They had the more clear cut opportunity to score a try when wing Afa Pakalani failed to hold onto a pass that would probably have put him in for the score after an impressive attack down the blindside.
It was from within their own half that the Waratahs did strike for the first try of the match, impressive flanker Dave Dennis making good ground after fielding a Crusaders lineout overthrow before quick hands transferred the ball to fullback Adam Ashley Cooper as the Waratahs advanced upfield. Ashley Cooper cut the defensive line and then drew the last Crusaders defenders before timing his pass perfectly to Pakalani, who this time made no mistake.
Brendan McKibbin converted to make it 7-0 after 11 minutes, but the Crusaders were back on level terms just six minutes later as Fruean took a high pass on the angle and burst through before stepping inside the cover defence to score near the posts.
Crusaders captain Kieran Read, who had a great game, might feel he was penalised unfairly in the 29th minute, but there wasn’t any point in complaining as McKibbin made no mistake with an easy kick to restore the Waratahs' lead.
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A feature of the game though was the way the teams struck back by scoring points almost immediately after conceding points, and a moment of Fruean genius saw the Crusaders take the lead for the first time. Fruean looked camped for space as the ball went left, but by showing the ball he bought the bit of space he needed as he darted inside and then powered up the left flank with support players with him. It looked for a moment like he may have butchered the opportunity but a flip pass inside to Zac Guildford saw the All Black winger fumble once before regaining control and falling over the line.
Taylor’s conversion from the touchline made it 14-10 but the Waratahs retained enough spirit to fight back and force another McKibbin penalty that enabled them to go the break trailing by just one point, with the 14-13 scoreline at the halfway mark being a good reflection of the game.
A Taylor penalty straight after halftime pushed the lead back to four points, but the Crusaders relinquished it almost immediately when Waratahs No 8 bulleted over the line from close range after an impressive Waratahs rolling maul to make it 20-17.
That though was the last time the Waratahs led in the game. They struck back quickly with another great try where the ball was run incisively down the line for Adam Whitelock to score in the corner, with Taylor’s accurate goal-kicking restoring the four point lead of earlier.
A McKibbin penalty maintained the sequence of “you score and then we score” and the sequence continued when Taylor added another for the Crusaders to make it 27-23. Then came a break in the sequence as Fruean effectively sealed the match with a spectacular try in the left hand corner.
If he had done nothing else in the game this try alone should have been enough to earn him the man of the match award. It came in the 55th minute, with Fruean skillfully fielding a pass that dropped to his ankles before transferring for Guildford and Israel Dagg to build up the attack towards the left touchline.
Just when it looked like the move might break down, or at least surely the ball had to be transferred inside, Fruean took the ball from Guildford and then squeezed towards the outside, where there seemed to be no space. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet might have said, however, “I know not seems”, and the man with the Mohican proved that sometimes even when there is no space there is space as he blistered down the touchline to score.
Taylor and McKibbin traded penalties after that before the injection of Sarel Pretorius into the Waratahs team produced a trademark individualistic try off an attacking scrum that forced the Crusaders to sweat a bit in the final six minutes. But as the Crusaders are wont to do, they did so with a fair degree of comfort.
Waratahs – Try: Afa Pakalani, Wycliff Palu, Sarel Pretorius. Conversions: Brendan McKibbin (2), Berrick Barnes. Penalties: McKibbin (4).
Crusaders – Try: Robert Fruean (2), Zac Guildford, Adam Whitelock. Conversions: Tom Taylor (4). Penalties: Taylor (3).