Defending champions the Canter-bury Crusaders overpowered the Wellington Hurricanes 39-16 with a ruthless performance to reach the Super 12 final here yesterday.
The Crusaders prevailed after leading 19-6 at half-time and will face the winner of today's semi-final between the Auckland Blues and the ACT Brumbies of Australia in the final.
Canterbury never really looked like losing the match and kept the Hurricanes on the back foot with a remorseless territorial game played mostly in the Wellington half.
"The guys handed the pressure of the occasion well," Canterbury skipper Reuben Thorne said afterwards.
Wellington captain Tana Umaga paid tribute to the Crusaders, saying his team had been unable to ask any awkward questions of the holders.
"We chucked everything we could and they had an answer to it all," the New Zealand All Black star said.
With a little less than full house the game was played in perfect conditions with the Hurricanes in control early on. A minute into the game and they were ahead off a penalty from David Halwell.
The early drama belonged to Crusader Norm Maxwell, picked for his height to disrupt the suspect Wellington line out.
As it was, the Hurricanes won their first line out, and Maxwell was put out of the match with a knee injury to force the Crusaders into a hasty rething.
Ten minutes into the game and Canterbury were on the attack and a try through the backs appeared inevitable, before Aaron Mauger opted for points with a delightfully simple drop goal.
A penalty apiece were exchanged as pedantic referee Peter Marshall began to make his presence felt but 19 minutes in and the Canterbury machine cranked up a notch.
Through seven phases their backline assaulted the Hurricanes and three players came within fingernail lengths to dotting down, before Sam Broomhall touched down and the boot of Daniel Carter made it a seven-pointer.
Carter was to slot two more penalties over before halftime.
The second half opened in the same fashion as the first, with an exchange of penalties before a try against the run of play to Wellington's Brent Wood.
The try looked harsh on Canterbury, with referee Marshall failing to spot a crooked throw at a line-out, an off-side and a knock-on in the build-up to the score.
The Crusaders' raw power in the loose was steadily proving too much for the Hurricanes, Canterbury winning possession 19 times at the breakdown to Wellington's five.
Soon after the Crusader machine cranked up even more.
There was a classic moment when a Crusader maul formed and pushed all the way over the tryline in brute force only for the score to be disallowed by unsighted officials.
A try followed soon after, this to Ritchie McCaw after a Wellington Hurricanes knock-on under the posts and Crusader Scott Robinson, tipped to move to France to play the rest of his club rugby, picked up the last try.