Three Points
Crusaders show classic traits of championship sides
Brett McKay
March 25, 2015
Rebels 16-20 Lions (Australia only)

So after six rounds, the Hurricanes who were unheralded unloved by all except their long-suffering fans and Ben Darwin are sitting pretty atop the Super Rugby table; still smiling, still unbeaten. And with three home games and a bye to come over the next month, they could really set up a tilt to the finals.

The Chiefs and Brumbies, meanwhile, suffered losses to well-regarded teams, and now have to contend with a return to New Zealand, and a bye, respectively.

In a weekend when the major talking point was something said on the field, here are a few actual rugby things that stood out in Super Rugby Round 6.

Rebels must learn how to be front runners

Melbourne Rebels coach Tony McGahan was ropable post-match last Friday night, lamenting his team's inability to close out games and properly play out the full 80 minutes.

"I'm still coming to grips with it," McGahan said after the 20-16 loss to the Lions in Melbourne. "To be in a game and to be in it with a lot of control, and then to have it taken away from us at the end. You've got to play for 80 minutes and the Lions stuck in and hung in for 80 minutes.

"We've got to continue to learn these very, very harsh lessons unfortunately."

Indeed they do, as it's become a bit of a worrying trend of the Rebels in recent weeks.

While they managed to keep the last 20 minutes even at 7-7 in the loss against the Waratahs in Round 2, and even outscored the Brumbies in the last 20 in Round 3, they've been outscored in the final quarter of both matches since their bye in Round 4.

The Rebels led 18-10 by the 60th minute in their Round 5 win over Western Force, and extended that to 21-10 five minutes later, only to shell a converted try in the 74th minute to bring about the final 21-17 scoreline.

Last Friday night, the Rebels kicked a penalty to take a 16-13 lead in the 66th minute and had the game well in control, as McGahan correctly stated, before they conceded a converted try with only two minutes to go.

Teams will know if they're within striking distance of the Rebels within the last 20 that the Melbourne are a better-than-even chance of giving up an opportunity to post points against them. And the Hurricanes are next up for the Rebels, and they are the masters of playing to the siren.

The Rebels need to work out quickly how to front-run in games, and the first lesson has to be playing until the final whistle. Whether that's a fitness thing or an effort thing is not for me to say, but it needs to be addressed regardless.

And as worrying as the loss was, it was downright dumbfounding that was the Rebels seventh straight loss at home. They last got the points at home in their 22-16 win over the Force in Round 10 last season. If they want to be taken seriously as the big improvers of Super Rugby, they simply must rectify this as well - and quick smart. Home wins are like gold, and accounted for nearly 71% of all wins last season.

Mitch Inman scored a try but the Rebels couldn't capitalise © Getty Images

Nemani Nadolo was taken high by the Cheetahs' defence in a key moment in Christchurch © Getty Images

Crusaders wind back the clock to Deans years

Sam Bruce, in his Pick'n Go column on Monday, pointed in to the yellow-carding of Cheetahs fullback Willie le Roux as a potential turning point in the Crusaders' 2015 season. He was right.

The Crusaders trailed 14-10 when le Roux was marched by referee Andrew Lees, but they went on to register a converted penalty try, from their scrum domination, and converted tries from Israel Dagg, Dan Carter and Nemani Nadolo. The Cheetahs shipped 28 points while Le Roux was in the sin-bin, and all momentum and hope was lost by the time he returned.

Crusaders 57-14 Cheetahs (Australia Only)

And while I agree completely with Sam Bruce that the points spree will be a turning point for the Crusaders, more important for me was the manner in which the three tries were scored while le Roux was off the pitch. All three of these tries came from the Crusaders capitalising on Cheetahs mistakes: Dagg's started with a turnover back near the Crusaders' 22 before going the length of the field; Carter's came from the champion midfielder swooping on a loose pass just inside the Cheetahs' 40m line; and Nadolo's score started from deep inside Crusaders territory, like Dagg's, with the ball swept quickly from the right hand side of the field to the winger on the left, where the big Fijian made his initial break and regathered a magic grubber kick to crash over in the corner.

David Havili scored for the Crusaders © Getty Images

To me, this was a throwback to the Robbie Deans Crusaders who benefited from opposition mistakes with clinical and monotonous regularity. Teams knew that they couldn't afford to make mistakes anywhere on the field because the Crusaders had the ability to punish them from anywhere, and it became a hallmark of their championship dynasty in the 2000s.

This kind of play is in the Crusaders' DNA, and they could be a scary prospect if they can carry this forward.

Waratahs-Brumbies the first Australian classic of 2015

Australian derbies are too often dour, unimaginative, safety-first affairs, but the Waratahs-Brumbies clash last Sunday broke that mould.

Waratahs 28-13 Brumbies (Australia only)

The Waratahs came out on top in just about every facet, but both teams threw everything - and several kitchen sinks - at each other. And the Waratahs' defence in the final half- hour was extraordinary, with Michael Hooper tackling so frequently that I had to wonder if he'd been cloned.

The Brumbies will rue the 31 missed tackles, but they also have to ask questions of their composure against the top teams. Their two losses this season have come against top-six sides from last year, and they've only managed one try in each game. Their four wins have been recorded against Queensland Reds (twice), Melbourne Rebels and Western Force, and the "flat-track bully" label will hover this season until they can start toppling likely contenders.

Israel Folau scored his first try of the season © Getty Images
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