Crusaders lock down New Zealand conference
July 12, 2014
Kieran Read lead the Crusaders from the front
© Getty Images
The Crusaders have locked down the New Zealand Super Rugby conference with an impressive performance from their forwards to claim a bonus-point victory against the Highlanders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
The hosts laid the platform for victory with absolute dominance in the set-pieces, and tries either side of half-time by Matt Todd, after set-move rolling mauls from lineouts after Kieran Read had ignored goal attempts to kick for the corner, set them firmly on course for a home semi-final.
The Crusaders crossed again through Nemani Nadolo, who touched down in the left corner after slick hands from Todd and Israel Dagg following a quick tap penalty that stunned the Highlanders, who were expecting another kick for the corner, and the hosts secured the four-try bonus point when Corey Flynn scored after yet another driving maul from a lineout.
The Highlanders, who played without star fullback Ben Smith, struggled badly up front and offered little in attack until Richard Buckman fought past four defenders to touch down in the corner after the Crusaders had been warned about repeated infringements; after their heavy defeat by New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney the week before, the Highlanders will surely be concerned as they now head to the first week of the finals and a daunting away fixture against either the Crusaders or the Sharks.
Crusaders 34-8 Highlanders (Australia only)-1
The Crusaders are second on the ladder with 51 points and a points differential of +123, with the Sharks third on 46 points and a differential of +89 points ahead of their fixture against the Stormers at Newlands; hence the Sharks must score four tries and defeat the Stormers by 35 points or more to deny the Crusaders a home semi-final and a week off. The result in Christchurch also guaranteed the Brumbies a home final against the Chiefs, who defeated the Australian team in the grand final in Hamilton last year.
Ryan Crotty said the Crusaders had "talked about taking momentum" into the play-offs, and he believed their performance against the Highlanders had "been a good couple of weeks" in the making. "The boys have had the edge at training, and ... are pretty excited about what we can do in the play-offs," Crotty said. "We're in a good place. The boys are fresh, there's good energy all week at training, and we're just happy to be around each other."
Highlanders captain Nasi Manu said his team "were just simply outplayed tonight" but "we're in the play-offs, and that's a great achievement for us". The Crusaders are "a quality side ... you've just got to turn up," he said..
Manu wondered if the Highlanders "were looking too far ahead and didn't turn up tonight" after being guaranteed a finals berth after the results in Auckland and Canberra on Friday, but he said he still had "a lot of belief in the boys".
The Highlanders have not played finals football since 2002, but they travelled to Christchurch with designs on a bonus-point win that would see them leap-frog the Crusaders atop the New Zealand log; it wasn't to be, however, and their hosts were in control of the game long before they let loose on the scoreboard.
Matt Todd scored two tries from rolling mauls © Getty Images
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