Painful Brisbane loss not forgotten by Crusaders

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 28/07/2014
FLYING FIJIAN: Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo bursts through a Sharks tackle in Saturday’s semifinal win.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ
FLYING FIJIAN: Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo bursts through a Sharks tackle in Saturday’s semifinal win.

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At last the Crusaders have a chance to erase the nightmare of losing the 2011 grand final.

Having ripped apart the Sharks 38-6 in Saturday night's semifinal at AMI Stadium, the Crusaders now prepare to carry their rage to Sydney for this weekend's grand final against the Waratahs - a side floating high on the back of eight consecutive wins.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, as much as anyone, will have been praying for this chance.

The only other time the Crusaders have qualified for a grand final under his control was when they met the Reds in Brisbane in 2011; and that epic campaign, when games were played out of Christchurch because of the earthquakes, ended with a 18-13 defeat.

Unlike many of his players who could immediately switch their focus to the World Cup, Blackadder, the coach since 2009, was left to kick through the rubble of defeat.

He now gets a chance to lance that festering carbuncle.

The Crusaders, who out-witted and physically dominated the Sharks to run in five tries to zip, have the chance to win their eighth title and reinforce their reputation as the competition's goliath.

Blackadder clearly hasn't forgotten that 2011 defeat. The painful lessons, he says, haven't been discarded.

''We got a lot out of that. We had been travelling all around the world and we probably got too emotional that week and it all came to a bit of a head.

''What we learned from that game, too, was that simple basics let us down under pressure.''

The Reds, who scored tries to Will Genia and Digby Ioane, eventually mauled a side that struggled with the tempo after travelling from their semi in Cape Town.

''I think we are better prepared this year,'' Blackadder said. ''We have got a lot more time to prepare for this game. What it comes down to is pressure and whether you can execute the basics well.''

Defence wins titles and the Crusaders, who ensured the Sharks rarely got inside their quarter, can expect a much more thorough investigation of their systems by a Waratahs side containing Israel Folau, Alofa Alofa , Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale.

The Sharks were unable to get any return out of their limited game-plan because of shabby kicking, an inability to match the Crusaders when competing for contestable kicks and their set pieces failed to get any dominance.

That performance against the Sharks was undoubtedly the Crusaders' best of the season.

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Their kicking game - many of them contestables - from Dan Carter, Andy Ellis and Israel Dagg - was much more accurate; they cleverly out-kicked the Sharks by 1066m to 647m but still moved the ball to where they could utilise runners such as No 8 Kieran Read and wing Nemani Nadolo.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is not so myopic to fall into the trap of thinking he can win his club's first title by playing conservatively.

Unlike Sharks boss Jake White, Cheika wants his men to use the ball, and even though the Brumbies successfully negated the impact of explosive fullback Folau they still succumbed 26-8 in their semi.

''Obviously, the Waratahs, we haven't played them all year so that makes a difference in the way we approach it,'' Crusaders skipper Read said.

"We just have to keep our calm heads and play the best game we have played all season.''

- Stuff

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