Hurricanes 11 Crusaders 20

Even if there is life on other planets, it's a fair bet they won't have a better rugby team than the Crusaders.

Which means we can probably crown the Crusaders the best side in the universe, as every other team on planet earth trudges out the tunnel to play them only with hope in their hearts, not expectation.

The Hurricanes would be about the stiffest opposition that exists but even with their kamikaze defence and bionic back row, they couldn't lower the mast of a side that has set sail for a sixth championship.

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What sets the Crusaders apart is firstly their individual genius. Richie McCaw must have a bloodline that links him back to the gods, as only an immortal can play rugby the way he does. Then there is Daniel Carter, who plays in the traffic with such effortless grace that you wonder if it would only be fair to make him play with a tray of drinks in one hand.

And what about Rico Gear? For too long, his light was hidden under a bushel while part of the Blues. Not now. His flower has bloomed and last night he glided across the turf as if nature had offered him a complimentary tailwind.

But it is the collective that really makes the Crusaders special. They undid the Hurricanes last night with their width, a quality they elicit by precise execution of the basics.

There was no better example than their opening try, where the backs simply ran straight and drew their man. Once Gear found himself clear on the right, he produced his fabulous in-out swerve which left Shannon Paku flapping like a snapper on the sand. When Gear was eventually brought down on the Hurricanes 22, the ball was quickly recycled to Carter, who threw one of his exquisite long passes to Scott Hamilton.

He quickly assessed that Corey Flynn outside him would relish smashing through Lome Fa'atau's Girl Guide tackle. The Crusaders made the break on the right touchline just outside their own 22 and scored in the left-hand corner.

No wonder the poor old Hurricanes couldn't halt the advancing red sea and no wonder Crusaders coach Robbie Deans is supposedly the man Wales want to have in charge of their national side.

They won't get him, though. He's already said 'no thanks' when he was approached a couple of weeks back and it's mainly because his Crusaders still continue to thrill him.

"We lost seven All Blacks at the end of last season and we showed tonight how the other group has filled the void," said Deans.

"There was some good footie and some good defence from two teams who were looking for width. I was really proud of the performance."

The Hurricanes, though, needn't wake up this morning wondering where they might find a high bridge to throw themselves off. They scored an enterprising try late in the piece which saw Paku bust open the Crusaders midfield before flinging a beautiful pass to the irrepressible Fa'atau, who skilfully dotted down in the opposite corner to the one Flynn charged through him earlier.

Not only that but Ma'a Nonu was starting to get free with ominous regularity and there was even the incredible sight of Aaron Mauger isolated after several phases with four yellow jerseys lurking like vultures.

Normally when the Crusaders reach the touchline, there are only red jerseys in attendance but the 'Canes have a back row that bristles with aggression and they gave about as good as they got last night.

If these two teams meet again in the final, as so many suspect they will, the Hurricanes will know they have to somehow hold off sending the cavalry into every breakdown.

Chris Masoe, Jerry Collins and Rodney So'oialo are supreme poachers who can snuffle turnover ball. When they managed that last night, they made good mileage on the counter-attack, with clumsy handling being their biggest blight.

Coach Colin Cooper felt the pain of those errors and said if his side gets another crack at the Crusaders that: "We have got to control the ball better and be a bit smarter, not get isolated so much. The big frustration for me was the penalty count was 12-4 and the majority of those were from rucks."

There was only 11 points separating the teams at the final whistle, yet somehow the Crusaders made it feel like much more.

Hurricanes 11

(L. Fa'atau try; J. Gopperth 2 pens).

Crusaders 20

(C. Flynn, A. Ellis tries; D. Carter 2 cons, 2 pens).

HT:

6-17.

-HERALD ON SUNDAY