Crusaders just too good for the Reds

Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Dan Carter strolls over the line to score a try.
Dan Carter strolls over the line to score a try.
Sam Whitelock takes on the Reds defence.
Sam Whitelock takes on the Reds defence.
Richie McCaw looks on from the Crusaders bench during his side's Super Rugby qualifier with the Reds.
Richie McCaw looks on from the Crusaders bench during his side's Super Rugby qualifier with the Reds.
Ryan Crotty dives over to score for the Crusaders.
Ryan Crotty dives over to score for the Crusaders.
Tom Marshall of the Crusaders is dumped by Ma'a Nonu of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Tom Marshall of the Crusaders is dumped by Ma'a Nonu of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Highlanders player Ben Smith jumping in the air for the ball with Crusaders Matt Todd & Dan Carter.
Highlanders player Ben Smith jumping in the air for the ball with Crusaders Matt Todd & Dan Carter.
Sam Whitelock of the Crusaders is tackled by Kade Poki of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Sam Whitelock of the Crusaders is tackled by Kade Poki of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Highlanders player Hosea Gear being tackled by Crusaders players Dan Carter (left) & George Whitelock.
Highlanders player Hosea Gear being tackled by Crusaders players Dan Carter (left) & George Whitelock.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg celebrates.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg celebrates.
Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty tries to escape Chiefs flanker Sam Cane.
Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty tries to escape Chiefs flanker Sam Cane.
Willi Heinz of the Crusaders is tackled by Ben Smith of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Willi Heinz of the Crusaders is tackled by Ben Smith of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Crusaders first five-eighth Dan Carter.
Crusaders first five-eighth Dan Carter.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg takes off.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg takes off.
Crusaders Kieran Read on his way to the try-line.
Crusaders Kieran Read on his way to the try-line.
Kieran Read runs out at AMI stadium.
Kieran Read runs out at AMI stadium.
Dominic Bird of the Crusaders attended to by the team doctor during his side's Round 16 clash with the Waratahs in Christchurch.
Dominic Bird of the Crusaders attended to by the team doctor during his side's Round 16 clash with the Waratahs in Christchurch.
Zac Guildford of the Crusaders passes the ball back to Kieran Read under pressure from Waratah Kane Douglas.
Zac Guildford of the Crusaders passes the ball back to Kieran Read under pressure from Waratah Kane Douglas.
Luke Romano wins a lineout for the Crusaders against the Waratahs.
Luke Romano wins a lineout for the Crusaders against the Waratahs.
Michael Hopper of the Waratahs makes a charge against the Crusaders at AMI Stadium.
Michael Hopper of the Waratahs makes a charge against the Crusaders at AMI Stadium.
Zac Guildford (centre) and the Crusaders lament their loss to the Chiefs.
Zac Guildford (centre) and the Crusaders lament their loss to the Chiefs.
Ben Funnell spins the ball wide against the Chiefs.
Ben Funnell spins the ball wide against the Chiefs.
Tom Taylor attempts a shot at goal against the Chiefs.
Tom Taylor attempts a shot at goal against the Chiefs.
Andy Ellis surveys his options from the base of the scrum against the Crusaders.
Andy Ellis surveys his options from the base of the scrum against the Crusaders.
Andy Ellis talks to the crowd after being presented with a mere in recognition of playing 100 games for the Crusaders.
Andy Ellis talks to the crowd after being presented with a mere in recognition of playing 100 games for the Crusaders.
Dan Carter unleashes a kick for the Crusaders against the Blues.
Dan Carter unleashes a kick for the Crusaders against the Blues.
Crusaders fans show their support for the team in the clash against the Blues.
Crusaders fans show their support for the team in the clash against the Blues.
Sam Whitelock takes breather during the clash against the Blues.
Sam Whitelock takes breather during the clash against the Blues.
Robbie Fruean (left) and Joe Moody celebrate after the Crusaders win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
Robbie Fruean (left) and Joe Moody celebrate after the Crusaders win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
Sam Whitelock gets a pass away in the tackle.
Sam Whitelock gets a pass away in the tackle.
Ryan Crotty on the charge against the Brumbies.
Ryan Crotty on the charge against the Brumbies.
Dan Carter is taken in the tackle.
Dan Carter is taken in the tackle.
Dan Carter made his return to action for the Crusaders against the Rebels.
Dan Carter made his return to action for the Crusaders against the Rebels.
Owen Franks of the Crusaders charges into Nic Stirzaker of the Rebels.
Owen Franks of the Crusaders charges into Nic Stirzaker of the Rebels.
Ben Funnell is taken in the tackle by the Rebels.
Ben Funnell is taken in the tackle by the Rebels.
George Whitelock leads the Crusaders on to AMI Stadium for the game against the Rebels.
George Whitelock leads the Crusaders on to AMI Stadium for the game against the Rebels.
Israel Dagg tries to evade the tackle.
Israel Dagg tries to evade the tackle.
The Crusaders celebrate after scoring a try against the Highlanders.
The Crusaders celebrate after scoring a try against the Highlanders.
Luke Whitelock charges into the Highlanders defence.
Luke Whitelock charges into the Highlanders defence.
Zac Guildford chases after the loose ball.
Zac Guildford chases after the loose ball.
Robbie Fruean fends off Kyle Godwin as the Crusaders went down to the Force in Perth.
Robbie Fruean fends off Kyle Godwin as the Crusaders went down to the Force in Perth.
Luke Romano dives over for a try which would later be disallowed.
Luke Romano dives over for a try which would later be disallowed.
Israel Dagg is tackled by the Force's Junior Raolea.
Israel Dagg is tackled by the Force's Junior Raolea.
Sam Whitelock breaks a line during the Crusaders' loss to the Force.
Sam Whitelock breaks a line during the Crusaders' loss to the Force.
Owen Franks is tackled during the Crusaders 21-17 loss to the Sharks in Durban.
Owen Franks is tackled during the Crusaders 21-17 loss to the Sharks in Durban.
Andy Ellis scores a try during the Crusaders' loss to the Sharks.
Andy Ellis scores a try during the Crusaders' loss to the Sharks.
Franco van der Merwe of the Sharks out-jumps Sam Whitelock.
Franco van der Merwe of the Sharks out-jumps Sam Whitelock.
The Sharks celebrate their win over the Crusaders in Durban.
The Sharks celebrate their win over the Crusaders in Durban.
Matt Todd of the Crusaders scores a try during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Matt Todd of the Crusaders scores a try during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
The Crusaders celebrate the win during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
The Crusaders celebrate the win during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Crusaders celebrate the try of Matt Todd during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Crusaders celebrate the try of Matt Todd during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Zac Guildford runs the ball against the Kings.
Zac Guildford runs the ball against the Kings.
The Crusaders score a try against the Kings.
The Crusaders score a try against the Kings.
The Crusaders score a try against the Kings
The Crusaders score a try against the Kings
Captain Kieran Read was a standout in the Crusaders win over the Bulls in Christchurch.
Captain Kieran Read was a standout in the Crusaders win over the Bulls in Christchurch.
Zac Guildford watches from the stands as the Crusaders beat the Bulls.
Zac Guildford watches from the stands as the Crusaders beat the Bulls.
Robbie Fruean celebrates his try as the Crusaders finally get a win this season over the Bulls.
Robbie Fruean celebrates his try as the Crusaders finally get a win this season over the Bulls.
Tom Marshall fends off a Bulls tackle.
Tom Marshall fends off a Bulls tackle.
Ryan Crotty makes a break during the Crusaders win over the Bulls.
Ryan Crotty makes a break during the Crusaders win over the Bulls.
Kieran Read looks on disconsolately after the Crusaders one-point loss to the Hurricanes.
Kieran Read looks on disconsolately after the Crusaders one-point loss to the Hurricanes.
Ryan Crotty makes a break for the Crusaders.
Ryan Crotty makes a break for the Crusaders.
Israel Dagg (centre) celebrates with team-mates after scoring against the Hurricanes.
Israel Dagg (centre) celebrates with team-mates after scoring against the Hurricanes.
Dan Carter chases down the loose ball.
Dan Carter chases down the loose ball.
Robbie Fruean on the charge for the Crusaders against the Blues.
Robbie Fruean on the charge for the Crusaders against the Blues.
The Crusaders gather behind their goal-line after conceding a try to the Blues.
The Crusaders gather behind their goal-line after conceding a try to the Blues.
Dan Carter flings it wide.
Dan Carter flings it wide.
Crusaders win the lineout against the Blues at Eden Park.
Crusaders win the lineout against the Blues at Eden Park.

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.

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.

GOOD SCORE: Crusaders players celebrate Dan Carter's try.
GOOD SCORE: Crusaders players celebrate Dan Carter's try.

Fairfax Media