Crusaders to meet Hurricanes in final

Crusaders 35 Bulls 15

The Crusaders preserved a remarkable semifinals record by beating the Bulls 35-15 here tonight to stroll into next week's Super 14 rugby final against the Hurricanes.

In a result that was widely predicted, the Crusaders cruised away from their outgunned opponents to set up a return to Jade Stadium next Saturday, where they will play their fifth consecutive Super final and eighth in total.

Up 16-8 at halftime courtesy of two tries to winger Rico Gear, the Crusaders added three more after the break and were rarely troubled in a second half that lacked the vigour of last night's first semifinal when the Hurricanes beat the Waratahs 16-14 in Wellington.

The Hurricanes are likely to provide a greater threat to the Crusaders in an all-New Zealand final.

The Crusaders had far too much panache tonight for a Bulls side who looked bereft of attacking options and leg-weary after only arriving from Pretoria on Tuesday.

The result continued the Crusaders' perfect semifinals record, having won all their seven appearances in the old Super 12 competition.

The Bulls were also true to form, having lost their two appearances in the Super 12 semifinals.

They had qualified fourth for the playoffs in surprising circumstances, beating the Stormers 43-10 last weekend to head off the Sharks and Brumbies on points differential.

They couldn't find the same verve tonight, although they battled hard to the end, preventing the scoreline blowout predicted by some.

The Bulls started abrasively, applying pressure at scrum and lineout time.

However, much of their kicking was aimless and they were guilty of losing possession at the breakdown, with Crusaders captain Richie McCaw a constant menace.

Bulls first five-eighth Morne Steyn couldn't capitalise on his side's early edge, missing an easy penalty.

His opposite Daniel Carter was successful with a penalty in the 16th minute and five minutes later Gear had his first try from a well-weighted grubber kick by centre Casey Laulala.

Steyn opened the visitors' account on the half hour with a penalty but the Laulala-Gear combination was at again moments later, with the centre throwing the last pass to send Gear over in the corner from turnover possession.

Carter slotted a dropped goal to open up a 16-3 lead but winger Bryan Habana kept the Bulls in the game when he crossed in the corner in the last act of the half following a forward drive.

The Crusaders stamped their mark on the second half with an astonishing try to lock Chris Jack.

The ball went through 17 phases of pick-and-go among the forwards which swept irresistibly upfield before Jack jogged over unopposed.

The Bulls dominated possession for the next 20 minutes for no reward and the Crusaders struck again when hooker Corey Flynn scored off a quick throw-in by second five-eighth Aaron Mauger.

Mauger was then at his brilliant best, busting the Bulls defence on halfway and outpacing the cover defence to score.

Replacement loose forward Pierre Spies crossed for the Bulls, preceding a final 10 minutes dogged by errors.

There were apparent injury concerns for Crusaders halfback Andrew Ellis (knee) and Mauger (ankle), who both left the game in the second half and could be in doubt for the final.

Bulls captain Victor Matfield identified Jack's try as a particularly heavy blow to his side's hopes.

"We were still in it at halftime. We made two turnovers in the first half and they punished us.

"But their try after the break following 17 phases was awesome play and that try put us out of the game."

Describing the Crusaders as a world class team, Matfield paid tribute to their staunch defence.

"You need to get over the advantage line but we couldn't do it, their defence was very good."

Skipper Richie McCaw was naturally delighted that the Crusaders season had been extended by another week.

"The first half was a real arm wrestle. We knew we'd have to meet the physical side of things and I think to a large degree we did," McCaw said.

Crusaders 35 (Rico Gear 2, Chris Jack, Corey Flynn, Aaron Mauger tries; Daniel Carter pen, dropped goal, 2 con)
Bulls 15 (Bryan Habana, Pierre Spies tries; Morne Steyn pen, con).
HT: 16-8.


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