Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders fail to impress with win

Owen Franks of The Cruaders is tackled by Julian Savea of the Hurricanes during the round 20 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.
Owen Franks of The Cruaders is tackled by Julian Savea of the Hurricanes during the round 20 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.

Crusaders 25
Hurricanes 17

The Chiefs have claimed the New Zealand conference title thanks to the Crusaders' unimpressive 25 - 17 victory over the Hurricanes in Christchurch tonight.

The Crusaders needed a bonus point win to retain a chance of overhauling the champions, who play the Blues tonight in the final Super 15 round. But the Crusaders were lucky enough to even win the match, let alone launch a bid for four tries, only nailing the victory with a 79th minute try.

The result protects the Crusaders home advantage in the qualifying playoffs but coach Todd Blackadder will need to stir his troops into action following a lame effort in front of their home crowd.

A nervous looking Crusaders couldn't carry on from their storming form against the Chiefs in the previous round and were constantly under pressure from the Hurricanes, who appeared determined to put a brave face on their disappointing season.

Rather than powering towards the finish line, the Crusaders gave the impression they were tying up and constrained by the pressure. That will strengthen the chances of Richie McCaw making an early return, at least from the bench, to reinvigorate their bid for a first title since 2008. Even the early departure of Hurricanes pivot Beauden Barrett in the 55th minute failed to stop the Hurricanes holding sway for much of the second half.

A mountain of Hurricanes' pressure midway through the second half created a Julian Savea try, and Andre Taylor's conversion from wide out left the Crusaders with just an 18 - 17 advantage in a game of few great moments.

As for greatest hits though, Savea's classic on the mighty Crusaders tighthead Owen Franks will be long remembered. The big test wing had a couple of handling lapses but his tremendous power took care of Franks.

Franks helped Savea's cause by keeping the ball tucked firmly under a wing as he plunged his immense frame towards the corner. Savea smashed him into touch with the ball never threatening to get near the try line, even though the odds were firmly in Franks' favour when he received the ball.

This was part of a stout defensive effort from the Hurricanes in the first half. They had their attacking chances too, although the first of these in the opening minutes broke down and led to an 80 metre breakaway try to Zac Guildford.

The Hurricanes responded quickly with a Matt Proctor counter-attack leading to Victor Vito's try. The rest of the scoring in the half was restricted to two Dan Carter penalties.

The area where the Crusaders had a clear advantage was the scrums and a tighthead opened up a fabulous try scoring opportunity which was wasted by Tom Taylor, who took a double hit rather than shifting the ball into a gap, and was forced from the field for his troubles.

The Hurricanes opened the second half in stirring fashion with Brad Shields storming through a giant gap for a try but Barrett again missed the conversion. Barrett's conversion failures were working against the Hurricanes staying in touch and the Crusaders opened up an eight point gap when Andy Ellis charged down a TJ Perenara clearance and regathered to score in the corner. Barrett departed the game early with a head knock.

Crusaders 25 (Zac Guildford, Andy Ellis, Tom Marshall tries, Dan Carter 2 con, 2 pen). Hurricanes 17 (Victor Vito, Brad Shields, Julian Savea tries; Andre Taylor con). Halftime 13 - 5.

- NZ Herald

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