CAPE TOWN – Can there ever be something like a poor Crusaders side? Probably not.
Which is why it’s going to be crucial that the Stormers get everything right that they got wrong in Sydney last week when they face the defending champions in Christchurch on Saturday.
While the Stormers won’t be going into the contest with the confidence of a win behind them, the hosts will be entering the game with morale-boosting knowledge that they put 45 points (to 23) on the Chiefs at the weekend. So, in a team full of threats and challenges, here are three Crusaders with extra sharp swords (among many) the Stormers should keep an eye on.
The flyhalf’s try in the first quarter of their match against the Chiefs was a good example of the Crusaders’ devastating ability to hurt their opponents from turnovers ... but it was also a piece of play that showed Mo’unga’s pace and electric reaction.
Well, I guess you can also say it was a perfect example of a flat no-look pass gone wrong by Chiefs pivot Damian McKenzie, but let’s focus on Mo’unga. As soon as the botched pass happened, the general in red and black pounced as he kicked the ball ahead just inside their own half and chased it down to score a fantastic try.
Yeah, that was superb, but don’t forget about his other assets. Crusaders assistant coach Ronan O’Gara last month described him as a “freak with ball in hand”, and it’s not hard to see why. The chilled on-field demeanour of Mo’unga - even during pressure situations - is only one of the attributes that make him a standout.
And between his skillset, which includes that kicking - whether it’s cross-field or goal kicks - his pace, his game-management and his agility, it’s tough to figure out exactly which one of his countless abilities is his most dangerous one.
Ryan Crotty wouldn’t make the top-10 list of players in the rugby world who can stun audiences with their feet. The speed at which he covers metres on the field won’t make your jaw drop. There’s nothing particularly special about his physique - he doesn’t have the size of Seta Tamanivalu, for example. His hands aren’t as famous as SBW’s offloading mitts. He’s not on the level of Beauden Barrett in terms of X-factor.
But he’s good. He’s solid. And it’s in his simple yet extreme efficiency that his danger lies. He’s as sharp on attack as he is on defence. He’s good at reading the game. His defensive ability is tops. He knows how to take the ball to the gain-line. He knows how to break the line. He knows how to pull off a slick offload. He knows how to communicate.
He has this stunningly weird ability of being in the right place at the right time (yep, thanks to his understanding and ability to read play for that). He just knows how to play, and he does it in a simple way - not flamboyant, simple. I mean, does he ever make a mistake? Or maybe he just does everything with such ease that it looks simple. I don’t know.
Anyway, the trusted centre is a man to watch. He might have spent many years in the shadows of New Zealand’s never-ending exciting rugby prospects, but on Saturday he should be watched by the Stormers, after all, with Crotty you can always expect the expected - a solid performance.
All. The. Time.
This guy isn’t about being overly flashy. He does what he needs to, and he does it well.
Still, you can’t help but notice when he does put that stepping and flair to use ... that stepping and flair that can test any defence. Havili is, simply put, an outstanding player, and his positional play is so devastatingly good that it could easily convince anyone who’s ever seen him play that he was born to be a fullback.
Need somebody to gather a high ball? No problem. Somebody to organise the backline? He’s your guy. Somebody to spark an attack from the back? That’s where he shines. Oh yes, and he also has this knack for slotting 50-plus metre penalties.
So, the Stormers are going to have to watch him on Saturday. Not only when they send a high ball the way of the Crusaders, but in general.