Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Crusaders crush Reds

Dan Carter scores a try with team mate Wyatt Crockett celebrating behind, Ben Tapuai of the Reds and during the Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Reds. Photo / Getty Images.
Dan Carter scores a try with team mate Wyatt Crockett celebrating behind, Ben Tapuai of the Reds and during the Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Reds. Photo / Getty Images.


It's a waiting game now for the Crusaders - Hamilton or Pretoria - they will find out tonight, but probably not really care either way.

In the kind of form they showed to crush the Reds, they will fancy their chances at either venue. Even with the travel, in this sort of mood, the Crusaders will smack the Bulls forwards about a bit. Stare them down and rough them up.

If it's the Chiefs, they will be just as confident. A few weeks back they reached around the back of the Chiefs, got hold of the cable and ripped it out the wall. There was no gentle pressing of the remote and the Crusaders delivered that sort of performance again last night.

They can be confident because the big transformation at the Crusaders in recent weeks has been in their physical intensity. They were relentless last night - mean, brooding, fizzing - happy to clunk and smash and determine who in the Reds, if anyone, had the appetite to deal with their menace.

There was a foreboding look about the Crusaders' pack. Their individual and collective body language gave off signals. They were hungry to scrum, they were eager to tackle; they were in a hurry to swarm the breakdown and let the Reds know that they were going to defend every square inch of their home patch.

The jeering of Quade Cooper was a constant reminder that there was a bit more on the line than a semi-final place. The loss to the Reds in the 2011 final hurt the Crusaders and while the feuding between Cooper and Richie McCaw over the years has been at international level, the opportunity to enjoy a little revenge wasn't going to be missed.

Which all meant that the Reds couldn't have found much solace at any given stoppage when they looked across and saw Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks - bruising characters each. The level of intimation was severe and the Reds just couldn't find a way to build momentum when they had the ball or do enough to stop the Crusaders when they didn't.

The Reds are a good side, organised and adventurous but they were always a long shot to be able to hold their own in Christchurch. The physical exchanges in the New Zealand Conference are that bit harder, edgier, more intense. The Reds may have thought they were coming into the game well conditioned for war on the back of a local derby with their fiercest rival, the Waratahs. It's big boy stuff in New Zealand, though. There is no give anywhere.

Romano, missing last week through injury, made a significant difference on that front. He's a rock solid grunt man - powerful and fit. He won the critical inches last night and the Crusaders played off him. Once he got them on the front foot, the other big men could move things forward again.

The Reds could only resist that for so long. It would be thump, thump up the middle before the ball was pushed wide through the hands.

Maybe a bit much of the Crusaders attack was too lateral, but that probably afforded them an element of surprise when they did keep their shoulders square to the touchlines and run direct and fast.

They scored their first try like that. Dan Carter came on the arc, then straightened to leave space on the outside. Israel Dagg was held up short but from the ensuing five metre scrum, Carter brought Ryan Crotty onto a flat pass, passed the flailing Quade Cooper and under the sticks.

It was a thundering run from Whitelock that created the second - he got so far behind the defence that they were never going to recover: never going to get to Carter who stormed onto the last pass on the left touchline.

It was no surprise to see Carter pop up there. He was in imperious form - his confidence high and every bit of his repertoire in tip-top shape. None more so than his running game - he's kept it under wraps for much of the year, but he's bringing it nicely to the boil.

So too has Crotty found his best form when it matters. His strength in the carry, timing and work rate were all excellent and allude to his longer term future being in the No 13 jersey.

Crusaders 38 (R. Crotty (2), D. Carter, T. Marshall tries; D. Carter 3 cons, 3 pens; T. Taylor pen)
Reds 9 (Q. Cooper 3 pens)

- Herald on Sunday

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