Rugby: Crusaders cruise into semifinal

By Steven Holloway

Richie McCaw of the Crusaders in action against the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw of the Crusaders in action against the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images

Crusaders 28
Bulls 13

The Crusaders produced a trademark clinical performance tonight to advance to the Super Rugby semifinals after defeating the Bulls 28-13 at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

The Bulls faced a tall task from before the first whistle was blown - a South African team has not beaten the Crusaders in Christchurch since the first Super 12 season in 1996.

And they seldom looked like troubling the record books in the first match of the 2012 Super Rugby playoffs, faced with a hungry looking Crusaders side who dominated all facets of the game in overcast conditions.

Dan Carter missed touch a few times, but otherwise was at his silky-smooth best - catching, kicking and breaking the line in a way that only the very best in the world can do - while he also threw in a drop goal for good measure.

And he was backed up by a powerful running Richie McCaw, and electric-footed winger Zac Guildford who both made a huge contribution to establishing a 13 point halftime advantage.

Indeed, but for some dogged defence, for large parts of the match the Bulls risked being on the end of a real hiding in a contest where the Crusaders never looked in danger of losing against surprisingly limp opposition.

While the Bulls scored two tries to one, in general play they simply did not offer enough to inject any tension into the contest.

The Bull's bread and butter game - built largely around set plays - couldn't match the creativity and sparkling open play of the Crusaders, who enjoyed the bulk of possession, territory, and a significant penalty count.

It was a messy opening five minutes before the Crusaders stamped their dominance on early proceedings. Swarms of healthy Crusaders possession eventually forced two penalties against the Bulls, which Carter knocked over with relative ease.

The Bulls' game revolves around the boot of the classy Morne Steyn - and for good reason. The leading points scorer in the 2012 Super Rugby season is usually the rock that team mates can rely on in pressure situations.

But he was having an off night tonight, and a number of misplaced, scuffed kicks put a heap of pressure on his side. In a stilted opening twenty minutes, both sides struggled to make a meaningful break through the opposition's defensive line with misplaced passes and kicks featuring prominently.

But in the 25th minute the Crusaders made their break - Zac Guildford hit the line at pace, and was given far too much space for a man possessing his speed, and ended up easily running over the line unchallenged. Carter produced a moment of magic soon after, dropping a pass before regaining possession, spinning around and launching a right footed drop goal to increase the margin to 16.

Steyn pulled three points back for the Bulls just before halftime before Carter responded with two of his own shortly after the restart.

Just as it looked like the Bulls hopes were all gone Dewald Potgieter burrowed his way over the line, breaking away off the side of a rolling maul and touching down.

But Carter put the result out of doubt in the 71st minute with another penalty reinstating the Crusaders' 17 point lead.

Wynand Olivier scored a consolation try for the Bulls with three minutes to play before Carter sealed the contest with his sixth penalty goal of the night.

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