The Canterbury Crusaders extended their lead at the top of the Super 14 table to virtually assure themselves of a home semi-final after a hard-fought 18-10 win over the Coastal Sharks yesterday.
With two rounds remaining, the chances of a semi-final spot for the Sharks are waning after three straight losses.
Scoring opportunities were at a premium for both teams in heavy rain during the second spell and a try to Crusaders replacement prop Wyatt Crockett in the 74th minute secured victory.
As the slippery ball bobbed dangerously in the 22, the Sharks’ defenders were unable to bring it under control. Crockett kicked the ball through soccer-style to just beat Sharks No. 8 Ryan Kankowski to the touchdown in the in-goal area.
The Crusaders had scored the first try in the 17th minute, capitalizing on their domination of the opening quarter. A pile-up of bodies on the Sharks line saw half-back Andy Ellis just fail to force the ball over the tryline but burly prop Greg Somerville followed up for a try converted by Stephen Brett.
Kankowski answered for the Sharks after 29 minutes with a brilliant solo effort from the back of a scrum just outside the 22.
He brushed aside McCaw’s tackle and then flicked off Brett and outside center Casey Laulala for a try converted by half-back Rory Kockott.
The Crusaders went into the break with a slim 13-10 lead after Brett and Kockott traded a penalty apiece.
Worsening rain forced both teams to play a tight conservative game in the second half but the Sharks were unable to convert a larger share of possession into points.
Kockott missed a chance to level the scores with a penalty midway through the spell and Crockett’s try for the Crusaders sealed their win
Meanwhile, a bonus-point try in the final minute has kept Auckland Blues’ Super 14 semi-final hopes flickering with a freewheeling 35-22 win over Queensland Reds yesterday.
Scrum-half Taniela Moa reached out to plant the ball on the try-line for the Blues’ fourth try to come away with a maximum five points and move to 31 points, just one point outside the top four midway through the 11th round.
Auckland still have control of their playoff destiny. They need to win their remaining matches away to the Otago Highlanders next week and at home to the Wellington Hurricanes to play in the semi-finals.