The strange defensive tactic of the Highlanders exploited by the crusaders
The Highlanders’ valiant 17-14 loss to the Crusaders was a game decided by the defense as both teams failed to score points in the second half, but a bizarre defensive strategy in the first half ended by being expensive for visitors.
Highlanders half-back Aaron Smith was positioned to defend in the middle, between second five Scott Gregory and his team’s true center Fetuli Paea, when a set piece deep in their own half 10 minutes before half -time.
It was from that set-piece that Crusaders Leicester midfielder Fainga’anuku scored his try, crossing Smith to give the hosts the lead, with the score 17-14 remaining unchanged from that point.
Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall recounted what happened on Aotearoa Rugby Podthanking David Havili for doing the reading and playing.
“The [were] no common images for us, seeing that actually,” Hall said of whether the decision to target Smith with Fainga’anuku – who is 17cm taller and 26kg heavier than the Highlanders captain – was a game. deliberate of the Crusaders.
“It was really good from David Havili at the time. A lot of teams are running this game, hitting the 12 wide on a maul.
“Look at any New Zealand team right now after a maul, lineout strikes, everyone is hitting the 12s looking for manipulation and animation from them.
“Davey saw that Nuggey [Smith] defended on Leicester, in this kind of area. We had a default move we were going to go for, but it was a one-on-one game of Dave and Leicester seeing Aaron was there.
“Leicester went straight through this. To answer your question, there was no glimpse around us seeing this [pre-game].
“It was just a great job recognizing Aaron Smith was in the line, he’s a bit smaller than Leicester so we were better off with that one-on-one opportunity.”
Havili used quick hands to deliver a short ball to Fainga’anuku executing a hard line under Aaron Smith, who was then able to fend off Gregory. The 22-year-old then crashed next to the posts.
Former Blues hooker James Parsons said it was anecdotal evidence that showed why Havili was highly regarded by the Crusaders, as he initially thought they had identified this Highlanders defensive setup during meetings with the Crusaders. pre-game.
“It’s good to know, though, because you’re watching this on screen, at first I thought, ‘Oh, they previewed this,’ but knowing that this stuff was decided on the fly shows why David Havili gets so many in-house wraps from the Crusaders,” Parsons said.
The Highlanders then found themselves lamenting a second half of missed chances. The Crusaders defended for long stretches as the visitors enjoyed territory and possession, looking threatening on several occasions but simply couldn’t get the ball past the line.
Tony Brown’s side missed a chance to level the proceedings when Mitch Hunt’s penalty goal attempt hit the post, and they had more than one clean line break to position themselves on the field in good attack areas.
Hunt also had the chance to level the score late in the game when the Highlanders were awarded a penalty within kicking range, but instead opted to kick it for the touch, only for the five first to start the ball dead and squander a promising opportunity.
Hall credited his side’s scrambling defense as the main reason that kept them in the game after Highlanders reserve half-back Folau Fakatava came on and made a huge impact.
“There were a lot of good breaks thanks to Folau Fakatava. When he arrived I thought he was outstanding,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“He was really capable of tearing us apart around our heart defense.
“To be honest, the crucial moments were probably Sevu Reece’s interceptions in the second half. Will Jordan had three turnovers last week and Sevu Reece had three interceptions this week.
“We make a lot of profit from these turnovers. It’s been a lot of work for us with Tams [assistant coach Tamati Ellison] This year.
“Last year we didn’t have a lot of turnovers, whether it was jackals or hunting and flooding, but this year we seem to have a lot.
“These moments at crucial times win us games.”