Crusaders just too good for the Reds

RICHARD KNOWLER AT AMI STADIUM
Last updated 17:44 20/07/2013
Chiefs vs Crusaders
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Crusaders vs Reds
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GOOD SCORE: Crusaders players celebrate Dan Carter's try.

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Forget the Richie McCaw comeback - all the credit for tonight's 38-9 Super Rugby qualifying final victory over the Reds belongs to his Crusaders teammates.

Like a ruthless matador the Crusaders combined courage, an iron-will and finesse to skewer the Reds at AMI Stadium and advance to the semifinals.

All Blacks captain McCaw finally made his long-awaited return to the Crusaders in the 66th minute but the damage had been inflicted well before the flanker arrived on the field.

The Crusaders' four-try victory was built around pressure in all facets - especially in the rucks - and that led to the Reds' playmakers Will Genia and Quade Cooper being rendered powerless.

If anyone was going to play a major role in the Reds winning this it was Cooper but his performance lacked any of the spark or desire required to turn his side's fortunes.

With halfback Genia rocked back on his heels for much of the match, first five-eighth Cooper was often too static when he receiving the pill and he rarely wanted to engage the defence.

That summed up the Reds night; their line-breaks were too rare, they were unable to shut down Crusaders offloading in the tackles and by halftime, when they trailed 21-6, the game was effectively won by the home side.

The Crusaders' opponent in the semi will be determined by the result of tomorrow night's qualifying final between the Brumbies and Cheetahs in Canberra.

A Brumbies win requires the Crusaders to make a short flight to Hamilton to play the Chiefs next weekend.

However, if the Cheetahs upset the Australian conference winners the Crusaders must fly to Pretoria to confront the Bulls at their citadel of Loftus Versfeld.

That is a scenario no-one in the Crusaders camp wants.

Not only would the long journey gobble-up some precious recovery time, they would also have to snap a losing streak in Pretoria that stretches back to 2009.

But if they do have to travel to Pretoria, they will take great heart from this effort.

There haven't been an abundance of set-piece tries for the Crusaders this season but the way centre Ryan Crotty scythed through the Reds' midfield proved the strike power has always existed.

The Crusaders, no doubt sensing an opportunity to expose the revamped Reds centre pairing of Jono Lance and Ben Tapuai, set-up an attacking formation from a scrum inside their opponents' 22m and employed Dan Carter to flick a short ball to Crotty. 

Crotty made no mistake; he ran a straight line, exposing the inaccurate defence of Tapuai and steamed across in Genia's tackle.

Backs running clinical lines is one thing but is there a better sight than a tight forward galloping at full speed?

Sam Whitelock had the 14,000 Crusaders fans howling with enthusiasm. The bearded second rower charged down the middle of the park, shrugged several tacklers and created the ruck that led to Dan Carter's try in the left-hard corner.

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In the second half loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett proved his skill-set is just as sharp; having accepted a lovely pass from Israel Dagg he accelerated into space, offloaded - shades of Sonny Bill Williams here - to Matt Todd who put his right wing Tom Marshall over for another try.

It wasn't only the Reds inability to keep the Crusaders ball runners from battering their line that proved an issue. Their set-pieces were shaky, also.

Crusaders tighthead Owen Franks did a number on Greg Holmes in one scrum, earning Carter his first penalty shot of the night, and the Reds lineout blew several promising attacking chances and the sloppy delivery to Genia allowed him to be scragged before unloading to Cooper.

Earlier in the week Reds coaching boss Ewen McKenzie warned it would be foolish to underestimate his forwards and, maybe, the Crusaders took his sermon on board.

Because the red and black pack did anything but sit back and allow the Queenslanders big men make easy yards.

Even when the Reds held possession for repeated phases in the second quarter they were unable to crack the iron-like wall before them and George Whitelock eventually made them pay by grabbing a vital steal.

You get the feeling Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, who yet to win his first title as coach since taking over in 2009, would do anything for his side to replicate that performance next weekend.

"You couldn't have a written a better script to be honest. It was really set-up by the attitude at the start of the week,'' Blackadder said.

"We have had our highs and lows (this season) and at times we haven't fired but the commitment is there. This a really determined group.''

McCaw, he added, is unlikely to start next week with the form of Matt Todd being so strong in the No 7 jersey.

In addition to making the semis for the 12th consecutive season the Crusaders had another reason to rejoice.

By knocking over the Reds they have avenged their heartbreaking defeat in the 2011 grand final in Brisbane.

- Fairfax Media

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