The how and why of the Crusaders' winning form
May 15, 2014
Nemani Nadolo is becoming increasingly effective and influential for the Crusaders in 2014 © Getty Images
The Crusaders' demolition of Queensland Reds on Sunday only underlined what most Super Rugby fans and pundits knew already ahead of round 13: the Crusaders are a force to be reckoned with this season. The Christchurch-based side have won their past five games on the bounce and, in truth, they were troubled only rarely in four of the matches; the only tight encounter came in their away match against New Zealand conference rivals the Chiefs, whom they edged 18-17 after trailing 17-9 at half-time.
We take a look at the team as a whole, comparing this year to last, as well as their first five games of 2014, when they lost three and only squeezed past the Stormers and Melbourne Rebels, to their past five, in order to identify what they have done in their winning run.
This star-studded side is producing similar figures to those posted last year. While they are not making as many metres per game as last year, their gain per carry is actually higher and they're also breaking the line more often. The difference in passes, carries and, importantly, time in possession demonstrates the side's efficiency this season with ball in hand. Their scrum has also remained incredibly strong and they have also managed to improve their lineout slightly.
Whether or not this side is better than last year's is a question we'll be able to answer only at the end of the year, but they'll look to sharpen up and become more aggressive in defence in a bid to better last year's semi-final appearance.
2014 season split comparison
Podcast: Crusaders have played us for mugs - again%]
We don't need statistics to tell you the Crusaders started the year shakily before picking up their form immensely. But if you want hard evidence, you need only look at their try and points scoring averages in those two time frames. Both totals have virtually doubled in recent weeks, while their goal-kicking has also markedly improved - as noted by Brett McKay in Scrum5 on Monday.
Going a little deeper, it can be understood how the Crusaders have improved their fortunes.
Rather than back themselves with ball in hand, the Crusaders have opted to boot their way up field and rely on their defence to force opposition errors. The number of kicks from hand from this side has gone through the roof, and is close to doubling as well. Their defence has improved slightly when it comes to tackle completion, but the really pleasing stat for the Crusaders coaches comes in the turnovers category: vigour and aggression has been there in abundance as their turnovers won per game have more than doubled.
A noticeable improvement of their use of the ball when they have it is there for all to see as well. An average of 115 carries in their first five matches has been followed by just 91 carries per game, but they have nevertheless enjoyed a significantly higher gain. They are not really evading more tackles than before, but are now converting half chances into clean breaks and points.
The upturn in the form of their lineout is also there in black and white, and a reduced error rate highlights the clinical nature of this side in recent weeks.
Richie McCaw has also returned to boost the Crusaders © Getty Images
© Opta Stats for ESPNscrum
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