We knew Waratahs wouldn't go the distance: Laulala - rugbyheaven.com.au

We knew Waratahs wouldn't go the distance: Laulala

Rupert Guinness | March 23, 2008

THE fitness of the Waratahs was targeted as a weakness by the Crusaders in the build-up to their defeat of NSW on Friday night.

Centre Casey Laulala, who scored the first of the Crusaders' four tries in the last 20 minutes to turn a 6-7 deficit into a 34-7 win, said they prepared believing their condition was superior.

"We knew that before the game," Laulala said later. "When we were running back after kicking the ball out we could see some of their forwards were breathing heavily as they were running to the lineout.

"We kind of knew their fitness wasn't up to scratch and also [had] the self-belief that we could keep going the distance. We just kept playing. We have a strong spirit and it's hard to break that."

Coincidentally, one of the key people the Crusaders can thank for that strength of mind and fitness is an Australian - their strength and conditioning coach Ashley Jones.

This could prove to be a positive for Australian rugby. Jones has been linked as having a possible role with the Wallabies when Crusaders coach Robbie Deans takes over in June.

Jones, who has been working with Deans for several years, is known to be a tough taskmaster.

The Crusaders are renowned for their ability to sustain pressure and momentum, still keeping an extra gear in reserve and Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie conceded as much as he lamented the fact that, despite talking all week about the need for the Waratahs to play the full 80 minutes, the Crusaders still came out on top.

To be fair, with so little possession and after defending for so long, most sides would have reached a breaking point before full-time - as NSW did - under the duress the Crusaders applied.

Added to that was the added fatigue the Waratahs forwards carried late in the game from their impressive showing in the lineout and scrum. "We were maybe in there for 65-70 minutes in terms of our defence," McKenzie said afterwards.

Laulala's converted try in the 53rd minute ended NSW's three-minute spell in the lead to give the Crusaders a 13-7 lead, but it was No.8 Moses Tuiali'i's converted try in the 64th minute that broke NSW's resistance.

Even so, it took an energy-sapping 17 phases before the Waratahs' defence finally yielded for Tuiali'i's pick-and-drive to create the space to score.