Crusaders drive for five

By Wynne Gray

The Crusaders will shoot for an extraordinary fifth Super 12 title next week after they embellished their reputation last night as New Zealand's premier rugby side.

They will host either the Waratahs or Bulls in the last Super 12 final before the tournament is expanded to 14 teams next year.

There will be no piece of history for the Hurricanes, no place in the last game of the competition to balance their place in the opening game of the professional series a decade ago.

Next Saturday's final will be a chance for the Crusaders to showcase their talents, promote more players for the All Blacks and perhaps even send a message about what awaits the Lions who are due to arrive in New Zealand the day before.

For the seventh time in the last eight seasons, the Crusaders surged into the finals on the back of their customary template - selfless teamwork, set-piece accuracy, discipline, the direction of Justin Marshall, Daniel Carter's goalkicking, strict defence and lethal counter-attack.

The Hurricanes could not deal with the pace of the hosts' back four where Scott Hamilton claimed three tries.

A couple of years ago, the Crusaders outlasted the Hurricanes 39-16 in a semifinal but last night they slaughtered them.

The Crusaders made a superb start. After just two minutes Rico Gear scored his 15th try of the series when, given an overlap, he beat two cover defenders to equal the record for tries in a season set by Joe Roff.

It started a furious attacking onslaught from the Crusaders as they threatened to burn the Hurricanes through their turnovers. A chip ahead from Caleb Ralph was just knocked on by Leon MacDonald before Hamilton was just stopped short on the other flank.

The Crusaders' scrum had the Hurricanes mob in reverse while the hosts were also creating dangerous turnovers.

After what was an ominous beginning, the Hurricanes managed to settle, only conceding a further penalty to Carter once he found his range with a couple of sighters. An 8-0 halftime deficit would have been acceptable to the Hurricanes but in the crucial last stages before the break, the Crusaders delivered their match-clinching wallop.

They had another Carter penalty banked before they were called into serious defensive mode as the Hurricanes put together a multi-phase attack in the shadow of the Crusaders' tryline. The Crusaders' defence had not been as dependable this season but none of them shirked this moment.

And then came the steal, a hand from Reuben Thorne, a tip from a colleague and the Crusaders unleashed one of their venomous counter-attacks from their own 22.

It may have been their stellar best of the season, superb passing, support from backs like MacDonald, Gear, Marshall and forwards like Ross Filipo and Greg Somerville before Hamilton completed the 90m movement.

Suddenly an 8-0 lead had expanded to an 18-0 advantage. The drip had turned into a trickle of scoring before the second-half torrent.

Crusaders 47(S. Hamilton 3, R. Gear, D. Carter, G. Somerville tries; D. Carter 3 pen, 4 con)
Hurricanes 7 (J. Gopperth, try; Gopperth con)

Halftime: 18-0

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