Crusaders romp into semi-finals
July 20, 2013
Tom Marshall scored a try to cap another impressive performance
© Getty Images
The Crusaders marched into the Super Rugby semi-finals for the 12th successive season with an overwhelming 38-9 defeat of Queensland Reds at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday, the seven-time champions combining brute force on defence with skilled execution on attack to score four unanswered tries against three penalties from Quade Cooper.
Centre Ryan Crotty bagged a double while Tom Marshall and Dan Carter also crossed for tries; Carter also landed three penalties and three conversions in a 20-point haul as the Crusaders won the collisions comprehensively, whether through ball carrying or on defence, where their aggressive tackling set the tone.
The static Reds struggled even to make a half-break and they never looked like completing their "New Zealand sweep" having beaten the four other Kiwi sides this season. The Reds' sorry elimination gave coach Ewen McKenzie the worst send-off as he ended his four-year reign to take over the Wallabies.
Reds captain James Horwill, replaced on the hour mark with his team trailing 28-9, said the defeat was a terrible way to mark McKenzie's last game in charge. "He's a massive part of what this team has been about for the last four years, and he deserved better than a performance like that tonight to be sent out on," Horwill said.
Richard Graham will hold the reins in 2014 for a side that will also be missing Digby Ioane (Stade Francais), Radike Samo (Japan), Jono Lance (New South Wales Waratahs) and Luke Morahan (Western Force).
"We spoke before the game about sending out those guys on a good note," Will Genia said. "We didn't play well, and that's even more disappointing; the fact now they leave on a poor performance. We were just outclassed."
Crusaders captain Kieran Read said the hosts had determined never to loosen the noose after making a strong start. "It comes off a bit of dominance up front," Read said. "We were able to get over the advantage line and get a bit of quick ball. In final games, your [defence] is where your character shows and is probably where it's won."
The Crusaders' offloading and support play on attack was a feature of the game, all four tries a result of clever ball movement.
Carter landed a penalty and Crotty scored his first try to claim a 10-0 lead inside 10 minutes, and the fly-half's try on the half-hour mark kept them clear as Cooper slotted penalties in the 14th, 28th and 46th minutes.
The Crusaders defeated the Reds in some style (video available only in Australia)
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Richie McCaw said "the lungs are burning a wee bit" © Getty Images
Marshall and Crotty scored tries seven minutes apart midway through the second spell to guarantee a fifth successive win, and the seventh in a row at home to the Reds since 1999. The increasing margin also allowed coach Todd Blackadder to employ All Blacks captain Richie McCaw off the replacements bench for the final 15 minutes, and the returning hero performed efficiently in his first appearance of the Super Rugby season after taking a sixth-month break from the sport.
McCaw, 32, said he had been nervous waiting for his chance. "The team's been going pretty well," he said. "I just wanted to make sure I slotted in nicely. It felt like I played about 80 [minutes]; the lungs are burning a wee bit. It was just awesome to be involved."
The Crusaders are unbeaten at home this year, and they have never lost a play-offs match at home, but they must now travel in pursuit of their eighth title: they will play the top-ranked Chiefs in Hamilton next Saturday if the Brumbies beat the Cheetahs in the second qualifier at Canberra Stadium on Sunday, but they will travel to Pretoria to face the No.2-ranked Bulls if the Cheetahs win.
Read said his team had to display the same level of intensity in the semi-finals. "We've got to be a careful," he said. "Every time we've had a good win, we've lapsed the following week. You certainly can't afford to do that at this time of year."
Sam Whitelock produced an outstanding performance for the Crusaders © Getty Images