Steven Holloway is the football writer for the NZ Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders secure home playoff

Sean Maitland (C) of the Crusaders is hugged by team mates Zac Guildford (L) and Israel Dagg (R) after scoring a try during the round 18 Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images.
Sean Maitland (C) of the Crusaders is hugged by team mates Zac Guildford (L) and Israel Dagg (R) after scoring a try during the round 18 Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images.

Crusaders 38
Force 24

It was a tale of two halves for the Crusaders tonight as they beat the Western Force 38-24 at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

They only needed a win to clinch fourth spot in the Super Rugby standings - and a home finals series qualifier - and wasted no time, scoring in the first minute and earning a bonus point by halftime.

But it wasn't all plain sailing; the Crusaders were aided by two contentious Televison Match Offical (TMO) decisions and had to fight off a second half resurgence from the Force, who scored three second half tries and dominated the later stages of the game.

The Crusaders will now wait for the weekend's fixtures to play out before finding out which fifth place side they will face, but will be heavy favourites if they ran recreate tonight's first half display.

It is the 14th time in 17 Super Rugby seasons that the Crusaders have made the playoffs and coach Todd Blackadder will be happy with the way his side put the result out of doubt early on, but disappointed by the sloppy second half in which they conceded 21 points.

The Force were unlucky to fall behind in the first minute, after Israel Dagg appeared to lose the ball while diving over for the first try.

But the Television Match Official (TMO) saw it differently, and surprised everyone - Dagg included - by awarding the try.

It was the second contentious decision in two nights from the TMO, and while this call had little bearing on the final result, it is sure to raise more question marks about the decisions being made upstairs.

Sean Maitland used his pace and sharp running to carve open the Force defence soon after, creating a 12 point lead which the Force never looked like threatening.

Ben Seymour and Dan Carter then traded penalties before Andy Ellis drove over for the second try of the night that had to go upstairs.

There was debate over the grounding of the ball and what looked to be a double movement, but once again the try was given and the Force were staring down the barrel of a thrashing.

Matt Todd drove over the line soon after to collect the home sides bonus point try before halftime.

But the Force did not give up, and will be proud of their second half performance.

They dominated the breakdown, defended with vigour and looked menacing in attack.

Kyle Godwin scored the first try of the second half before Alfie Mafi and Josh Holmes brought the score back to a respectable looking final score.

Crusaders 38 (Israel Dagg, Andrew Ellis, Sean Maitland, Matt Todd tries Daniel Carter 3 cons Carter 2, Tom Taylor 2 pens) Western Force 24 (Kyle Godwin, Josh Holmes, Alfie Mafi tries Brett Sheehan 2, Godwin cons Ben Seymour pen) at Christchurch Stadium

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