Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders stroll into final

Kieran Read of the Crusaders breaks away from a tackle to score a try during the Super Ruby Semi Final match between the Crusaders and the Sharks at AMI Stadium. Photo/ Getty.
Kieran Read of the Crusaders breaks away from a tackle to score a try during the Super Ruby Semi Final match between the Crusaders and the Sharks at AMI Stadium. Photo/ Getty.

Crusaders 38
Sharks 6

The Crusaders' juggernaut rolls on for another week, after the Sharks were dismantled piece by piece in Christchurch last night by a team who look in clinical, and ominous, form.


Todd Blackadder's outfit will feel they have the momentum and players to win next Saturday's final, the first they have contested since 2011. This was a thunderous performance in unusually benign conditions for a mid-winter's evening in the south which suited a team determined to attack from every direction.

It was all but sewn up with half an hour remaining, Nemani Nadolo's try after a break by Dan Carter and clever work by Colin Slade a devastating blow to a team which looked to be getting the jitters.

It's hard to remember so many mistakes from players of the class of Frans Steyn and Pat Lambie, two Springboks who failed badly in their core roles of kicking for touch.

As a result of their mistakes, they failed to put any sort of pressure on the Crusaders.

As promised, the Sharks offered heavy defence and a willingness at the breakdown which found out the Crusaders, with referee Glen Jackson penalising the home side time and again. But they simply couldn't build on it. In the end they looked tired. The Crusaders, by comparison, looked energised.

At 21-6 and time running out, tries by Willi Heinz, Johnny McNicholl and the indefatigable Matt Todd threatened to turn it into a rout.

The Crusaders needed their experienced players to deliver and they certainly did that. Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Corey Flynn, Sam Whitelock... they all tore into their work with skill aligned with a complete disregard for their safety.

It was a match in which the Crusaders didn't revert to type and nor did the Sharks. It was a frenetic pace from the first minute, the home side not surprisingly keen to run the Sharks around following their long trip from South Africa, and the visitors deciding to follow suit.

It was probably partly because they couldn't get a decent foot-hold on the game, a chance to play to their strengths. They didn't have a chance to drive the Crusaders back in their traditional lineout mauls because they didn't have the field position. They tried it once in the first half - a maul which was effective, going about 10m before it collapsed - and the Crusaders spoiled it, the pesky Todd getting his hands on the ball.

When the visitors did find touch, they found Whitelock and Dominic Bird formidable lineout opponents.

The Crusaders' willingness to counterattack opened up opportunities in other areas. The Sharks' back three, ever fearful of the ball going to the giant Nadolo or busy Israel Dagg, were up in the defensive line allowing Carter to drill the ball into Sharks' territory.

They needed a good start but the Sharks were chasing the game from as early as the 17th minute following Read's converted try, a typically wide-ranging effort in which he showcased his speed and power from 30m out.

The Sharks' best chance in the first half came in the closing stages when right wing Kieron Fonotia inexplicably elected to catch and attempt to clear, rather than take a mark. His kick was charged down but the Crusaders scrambled superbly to snuff out the threat. The failure to take advantage of a mistake would have weighed on the Sharks and they hardly fired a shot after the break.

They chased the game superbly in their round-robin upset. Not this time, though.

Crusaders 38 (Kieran Read, Nemani Nadolo, Willi Heinz, Johnny McNicholl, Matt Todd tries; Dan Carter 3 pens, 2 cons) Sharks 6 (Pat Lambie 2 pens). HT: 16-6.


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