July 26, 2014
The Crusaders booked a place in their eleventh Super Rugby Final with a 38-6 victory over the Sharks at AMI Stadium on Saturday.
The seven-time champions led from start to finish, outscoring the South African conference winners four tries to one in a convincing win.
Todd Blackadder's team will now hope the Brumbies can beat the Waratahs in the second semi-final, a result which would see the final played in Christchurch.
The Crusaders led 16-6 at the interval thanks to a try from skipper Kieran Read and three penalties from Dan Carter.
The Sharks would have been relieved to be trailing by only ten points given the Crusaders' dominance of territory.
The contrasting gameplans were immediately evident as the Crusaders looked to stretch the Sharks' defence. As usual, the visitors we playing for territory but a plethora of poor kicks handed the lion's share of possession - and therewith the initiative - to the men in red.
In fact, the only real opportunity in the first half-hour for Jake White's came from a rare counter attack from inside their own 22.
The second half was one-way traffic Nemani Nadolo touched down for the Crusaders' second try soon after the restart before Willi Heinz, Johnny McNicholl and Matt Todd all crossed to seal the win in the final quarter.
Carter gave the Crusaders the lead from the kicking tee after just two minutes thanks to Jannie du Plessis drifting offside.
Another poor kick - from Paul Jordaan - was at the origin of the opening try. The Crusaders countered through Nadolo before Read shrugged off Jordaan's tackle to burst clear and race home.
Carter added the extras to put the home side 10-0 up at the end of the first quarter.
Pat Lambie opened the Sharks' account with a penalty thanks to some strong work at the breakdown by Marcell Coetzee.
However a penalty against Jean Deysel on the deck and another against Cobus Reinach for offside allowed Carter to stretch the lead at 16-3 on the half-hour mark.
Lambie's second penalty - for dragging the Sharks jumper down at a line-out - pulled three points back and the gap should have been closer going into the break but the fly-half was off target on the stroke of half-time after the Sharks had finished the first period strongly.
But the writing was on the wall after Nadolo raced home. Andy Ellis spun away from a ruck to find Carter on his inside. Colin Slade showed great hands to provide the link to the Fijian wing, who had an easy run in for his eleventh try of the season.
Carter missed the conversion but Lambie also sent an penalty wide to leave the Sharks trailing by 15 points going into the final quarter.
When the ball bobbled out the side of a Sharks scrum and Heinz pounced for an opportunistic try on the hour mark, the game was essentially won.
Crusaders replacement prop Nepo Laulala was very lucky not to see yellow after throwing a punch but the officials ruled that his poor aim was enough reason to leave him on the field.
As expected, Crusaders pulled clear at the end as McNicholl finished off a counter-attack after another aimless kick from Tonderai Chavhanga before Todd crashed over as part of a maul in the dying minutes to rub salt into the Sharks' wounds.
Man of the Match A mention for Richie McCaw, who made an impressive return but we'll go for the Crusaders' skipper Kieran Read . He only played for an hour but the try-scoring number eight was outstanding, living up to his status as the World Player of the Year.
Moment of the match: The Sharks were still in it at half-time, but the Crusaders positive enterprise, to keep attacking when a penalty was on offer, resulted in Nadolo's try, which took the wind out of the Sharks' sails.