Crusaders muffle Bulls' bellow
COURAGEOUS wins are nothing new for the Crusaders, but their victory against the Stormers yesterday might top their illustrious honours board.
All the elements of great drama were there with early injuries and then New Zealand referee Chris Pollock ruling out a Stormers try because the wrong ball was used for a quick lineout throw.
For many reasons victory was special. It was an away match against a Stormers side with a solitary loss and the best defensive record in the series while the Crusaders were down on manpower.
No Daniel Carter, no Richie McCaw, Andy Ellis, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn or Ben Franks for the red and blacks.
The casualty list got worse. Before halftime openside flanker Matt Todd switched to wing to cover for backline casualties. Israel Dagg went first with a serious leg injury, then Sean Maitland, Kahn Fotuali'i and Adam Whitelock.
Sides without the Crusaders' belief and pedigree would have folded.
It needed something special to ice a victory in a contest where the 48,600 crowd saw standards a level above regular weekly viewing.
Two men with varied reputations, Sonny Bill Williams and Wyatt Crockett, shone a shade more brightly than the glow from their courageous teammates.
This was Williams' first foray on to South African rugby soil where he and Robbie Fruean met the midfield might of Jaques Fourie and Jean de Villiers.
SBW was immense, his defence was jarring, his offloads exquisite. His pass out of a tackle to create Crockett's first try was great, the trailing support from Sean Maitland the product of time on the training ground.
Williams produced as the heat rose, the senior man in a depleted backline.
That remaining lineup will become a quiz special in future years - Willi Heinz, Matt Berquist, SBW, Fruean, Todd, Zac Guildford and Tom Marshall.
Up front, Crockett's two tries underscored his overall contribution.
For a big man he gets about the track. He clattered the Stormers with the sort of big hits he brought last week in Perth and was part of a strong scrum.
Crockett still gets a few scrum frowns from referees but games, except those between Australian sides, seem to be shifting away from those prolonged inspections. He is 28, a specialist loosehead who shares the Crusaders workload with the Franks brothers.
Crockett played four tests in 2009, but has not been seen in black since. More work like this and a return could be on the cards.
In all of this it would be easy to overlook the Stormers. They brought plenty to the match. Andries Bekker, Schalk Burger, Francois Louw, Fourie, de Villiers and Gio Aplon were all massive contributors.
But now they leave for their offshore stint with a dip in their results chart, a mini-stagger and the accompanying self-analysis and questions about their recovery.
The Chiefs and Blues lie in wait, the former finding some form and results and the Blues hanging tough at the top of the table.
The Stormers must then travel across the Ditch to face the Brumbies and Force.