The Crusaders punished an errant Sharks outfit to clinch a 38-6 win in Christchurch and a place in the final. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The semi-final in Christchurch exceeded all expectations. The Crusaders were better than most would have anticipated. The Sharks couldn't have performed any worse than they did.
The Crusaders did not play last week, and yet managed to replicate the dominance shown in their final league clash against the Highlanders. They weren't short of momentum, confidence, or temperament in this do-or-die clash with the South African conference winners.
The Crusaders dominated the Sharks in all facets. Sam Whitelock won some important turnovers for his team at the lineout, while the back row of Richie McCaw, Matt Todd, and the sublime Kieran Read were irrepressible at the breakdowns and collisions.
The Crusaders also outplayed the Sharks in the kicking battle, with their 9, 10 and 12 all contributing accurate performances in this area. This was complemented by an excellent kick chase.
The Crusaders were brilliant on the day, and are serious contenders for the Super Rugby title. And yet, while they deserve recognition for their balanced brand of rugby, it must be said that on this occasion they were helped by a very poor Sharks performance.
While the Sharks forwards weren't lacking for desire and intensity, their ball security was poor. When they did secure possession at the set piece or breakdown, the abject decision-making and execution by their 9,10, and 12 gifted the Crusaders counter-attacking chances.
Cobus Reinach made some shocking decisions from the base. Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn were both guilty of kicking the ball away aimlessly in general play.
On several occasions, when the Sharks forwards had done well to win a penalty, Lambie either failed to find touch or kicked the ball dead. These unforgivable mistakes prevented the Sharks from building momentum and making inroads into the Crusaders defence.
Paul Jordaan will also want to forget about what was a nightmare performance. It was his pathetic attempt at a clearance in the 18th minute that handed the Crusaders possession deep in Sharks territory. Jordaan would feature again in the movement when he missed a tackle on Read. The All Blacks No 8 brushed the Sharks No 13 aside and then accelerated to beat the cover defence to the tryline.
After absorbing a lot of pressure in the first half, the Crusaders' attack started to dominate. The hosts won a turnover when the Sharks failed to clear their lines for the umpteenth time. They had the penalty advantage when Andy Ellis broke the line, and then combined with his 10 and 12 to create a try for winger Nemani Nadolo.
The game was effectively over at 21-6. Jake White emptied his bench, but the Sharks looked a defeated side and didn't trouble the scorers for the rest of a game that never seemed to end.
The Crusaders remained hungry in that final half hour, and proceeded to compound the Sharks' humiliation. Dan Carter, so accurate in the first half, missed a few conversion attempts in the second, although this hardly mattered as the hosts scored three more tries to inflate the scoreline.
The odds were always against the Sharks winning a play-off in Christchurch, but they should feel disappointed with their lack of accuracy and composure.
By contrast, the Crusaders have made another statement with a powerful and polished showing, and will be tough to beat in next week's final.
Crusaders – Tries: Kieran Reid, Nemani Nadolo, Willie Heinz, Johnny McNicoll, Matt Todd. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalties: Carter (3).
Sharks – Penalties: Pat Lambie (2).
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn , 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Johnny McNicholl.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 S'bura Sithole, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.
LEATHERMAN SA PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Marcell Coetzee was the most consistent of the Sharks' players in Christchurch, carrying the ball strongly and winning some important turnovers on the ground.
VOTE FOR YOUR SA PLAYER OF THE WEEK AND WIN A LEATHERMAN!
Leatherman SA is giving away great Leatherman prizes and all you have to do is vote for your Leatherman Player of the Week from our nominees to enter! Check out our weekly player nominees each Monday, 'like' your favourite player to vote and you could be the one to win! If your player lets you down don’t worry, your Leatherman never will!
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images