Crusaders too strong for Sharks
June 25, 2011
The Crusaders' Sonny Bill Williams is shackled by the Sharks' defence
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The Crusaders powered into the Super Rugby semi-finals with a 36-8 victory over the Sharks in Nelson.
Tries from centre Sonny Bill Williams, No.8 Kieran Read and replacement Ben Franks and 19 points from the boot of Dan Carter were enough to see off a travel-weary Sharks side who had taken an early lead thanks to a try from back-row Willem Alberts. The Crusaders' reward is a trip to Cape Town next weekend to tackle the Stormers while the result also confirms that the table-topping Reds will play host to the Blues in the other final four clash.
A clinical second half performance carried the Crusaders' home after they had led 13-5 at the break although the performance lacked much of the cohesion and quality that has been their hallmark during this troubled season. The Sharks kept the hosts honest and forced them into numerous errors in the first half, but the Crusaders produced a more assured display after the break to deny the visitors the ball and took full toll of their opponents' mistakes to score 23 points.
Both sides struggled to get to grips with the dewy conditions, and the ball, in a disjointed first half. Shoddy handling and poor passing was the order of the day as both sides struggled to get to grips with the dewy conditions, and the ball, in a disjointed first half at Trafalgar Park. It began promisingly enough with Carter stroking through a penalty in the first minute, but the All Blacks fly-half then missed two kickable penalties and in between the Sharks showed their attacking threat to score the opening try.
Lively scrum-half Charl McLeod broke through a lineout just inside his own half and burst upfield before finding Keegan Daniel in support. He was hauled down just short of the line by desperate tacklers, but Alberts then bullocked his way over to give the visitors a 5-3 lead after 12 minutes.
The Sharks had plenty of bite in their work around the ruck and repeatedly drove over the ball as the Crusaders made the mistake of not committing enough players to the breakdown. The misfiring red and black machine needed a spark and they got it eight minutes from the break from winger Sean Maitland, returning to the side after five weeks out with injury, who cut back inside to wrongfoot defenders and send Williams over. Carter's conversion and subsequent penalty gave the Crusaders the edge at the interval.
The Sharks, who had pressured the Crusaders into errors in a combative display, narrowed the gap through a Patrick Lambie shortly after the restart, but from there on the home side took control. Carter replied with a penalty of his own, then Read, playing with an ankle heavily strapped after rolling it in the first half, intercepted a Lambie pass in midfield and raced under the posts from 40 metres out.
From then on the Sharks were playing catch-up, but they were not allowed to build enough pressure as Carter penalised them for their indiscretions. The tourists struggled to get their hands on the ball and the Crusaders were in such control that coach Todd Blackadder could ring the changes with one eye on a taxing trip to Cape Town. Replacement prop Franks bulldozed his way over late on to cap off an efficient second half showing that keeps the Crusaders on course for yet another Super Rugby crown.
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