Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders left shouldering nation's Super Rugby hopes

A semifinal victory would take Richie McCaw's, left, men to their first final since 2011. Photo / Getty Images
A semifinal victory would take Richie McCaw's, left, men to their first final since 2011. Photo / Getty Images

Todd Blackadder would have made the short journey from his home to the Crusaders' training base yesterday to begin the analysis for his team's semifinal in Christchurch on Saturday with an added sense of purpose.

The Crusaders' opposition will be the Sharks, the Durban team's 31-27 qualifier victory over the Highlanders at Kings Park early yesterday confirming their place in the playoffs for what is likely to be a brutally physical contest at AMI Stadium.

With the Chiefs falling 32-30 to the Brumbies in their qualifier on Saturday, the Crusaders are the only New Zealand team left in the competition.

The other semifinal will pit the Waratahs against the Brumbies in Sydney for an all-Australian encounter likely to be high on drama but which probably won't feature the intensity of the earlier clash.

The Sharks bludgeoned their way past the Highlanders by virtue of their forward pack and the boot of Frans Steyn. And they are unlikely to change their approach for the Crusaders, who will be hurting from the embarrassment of failing to put away Jake White's men, who for 10 minutes played with only 13 men, during their round 14 encounter on May 17.

In that match, flanker Jean Deysel was sent off for stamping on Jordan Taufua's head and in the second half Willem Alberts was sinbinned. But despite the numerical advantage, the Crusaders failed to breach the Sharks' defence, the visitors holding on for a deserved 30-25 victory.

There will be a resolve among Blackadder's men to banish the memories of that night with a victory which would take them to their first Super Rugby final since 2011, the year of the earthquakes and constant travel which ended in defeat against the Reds in Brisbane.

For the Chiefs, it is a disappointing end to a season which started with so much promise - and a victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch. They have failed in their bid to join the Crusaders on three consecutive titles, a powerful Brumbies team streaking to a 22-3 lead following Tim Nanai-Williams' sinbinning, before the Chiefs began one of their traditional comebacks.

"We were uncharacteristically poor, they seemed shellshocked," coach Dave Rennie said of the Chiefs. "They seemed to be able to slice through us, we didn't belt them, didn't have that physicality.

"We did claw it back and the game was there for the taking, but we got trapped down our end.

"It's incredibly disappointing."

Former Waikato wing Henry Speight was a major thorn in the Chiefs' side. His powerful running cut the visitors open in the first half and they couldn't quite make up the deficit. The defeat means players such as Tanerau Latimer, Mahonri Schwalger and Asaeli Tikoirotuma will leave on a disappointing note.

The Highlanders will be happier with their efforts.

"I think we can be proud of what we achieved, especially tonight; one bounce of the ball and we could have been in Sydney next week playing the Waratahs," assistant coach Tony Brown said.

- APNZ

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