Crusaders march into Super Rugby final
RICHARD KNOWLER IN CHRISTCHURCH
The adventurous Crusaders pulled out their swords and ruthlessly filleted the Sharks 38-6 to book a place in the Super Rugby tonight.
In the lead-up to the semifinal at AMI Stadium much of the chatter was about what sort of damage the Sharks could inflict with their menacing scrum and driving mauls and the kicking games of Frans Steyn and Patrick Lambie.
The truth was this: very little.
So good was the Crusaders' scrum that when the Sharks had a defensive feed fiver metres from their own line in the 69th minute, replacement halfback Willi Heinz pocketed a loose ball and darted away to score the vital try that put the South Africans out of their misery.
Winning big games requires patience, power and execution. The Crusaders had all that, and more, while Sharks coach Jake White will have been bitterly disappointed by the number of basic errors made by his team.
The travel and last weekend's qualifying quarter final undoubtedly took a huge toll on the Sharks but their basic errors by experienced players such as Steyn and Lambie were inexcusable.
The visitors had a miserable night under the high ball and were unable to gain any momentum against the ferocious defensive effort of men like Richie McCaw, Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock and Matt Todd.
The Crusaders made their intentions clear the moment referee Glen Jackson blew hot air into his whistle.
Unlike the Sharks, who predictably cut-and-pasted the game plan that had served them so well against the Highlanders in Durban, the Crusaders used their backs and ball runners like No 8 Kieran Read to continually shift the big South Africans around.
Often they flung the ball towards left wing Nemani Nadolo and fullback Israel Dagg was a prominent sight as he created an extra link and used his soft hands to create quick transfers, while midfielder Dan Carter used his guile and power to provide vital go-forward.
As the Sharks - who only had 32 per cent of the territory in the opening spell - opted to kick from inside their own half, the Crusaders heaped on the pressure with their ball maintenance and it was Nadolo who created the opening try for his captain Read.
Nadolo, having barged his way upfield, scattered some defenders like cardboard boxes and when the pill was worked towards the short side Read steamed through the tackle of Sharks centre Paul Jordaan before stepping inside another hapless defender to score.
Nadolo joined Read on the score sheet soon after the re-start but it was his inside backs Andy Ellis, Carter and Colin Slade who deserved the backslaps.
The movement summed-up the Crusaders' attitude; hooker Corey Flynn, in his 150th match for the franchise, went digging into a ruck and when he pulled out a valuable turnover the Sharks defence quickly found itself in a chaotic state.
Ellis found space on a ruck fringe, Carter made a burst and when Slade slipped the final pass to Nadolo there was nothing that was going to stop the 125kg Fijian monster.
That was that.
Tries followed to Johnny McNicholl, Todd and Heinz as the Sharks, who never looked like scoring, capitulated.
Crusaders 38 (Kieran Read, Nemani Nadolo, Willi Heinz, Johnny McNicholl, Matt Todd tries; Dan Carter 2 cons, 3 pens) Sharks 6 (Patrick Lambie 2 pens) HT: 16-6.
AS IT HAPPENED
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