The Canterbury Crusaders powered into the Super 14 finals, flattening the Wellington Hurricanes 33-22 with a near-complete performance in their semi-final yesterday.
The 11-point winning margin, and three tries apiece scoreline, did not do justice to the total domination of the Crusaders throughout the match.
The most successful side in the history of Super rugby and gunning for their seventh title, the Crusaders enjoyed 61 percent of possession and an overwhelming 76 percent territorial advantage.
It was a stunning return of confidence and form by a side which only a week ago was humbled by the Otago Hurricanes in the last round before the play-offs.
They will now be at home in next weekend’s final.
Although 30 minutes into the match the Hurricanes led 8-6, it was against the run of play as the Richie McCaw-led Crusaders enjoyed total command up front.
It was inevitable that cracks would appear in the Hurricanes defense and the Crusaders scored just before halftime to lead 13-8 at the turn, then raced to a 33-8 advantage before allowing the Hurricanes two soft tries at the end.
“We knew we had to take a big step up from where we’ve been in the past couple of weeks,” McCaw said. “We didn’t allow them to get too much going, apart from right at the end, and we capitalized on our chances.”
Raking kicks down the middle by Dan Carter, Leon MacDonald and Scott Hamilton kept the Hurricanes on the back foot and the fast-chasing Crusaders forwards secured a constant supply of turnover ball.
The Crusaders’ fortress at the AMI Stadium has never been a happy hunting ground for the Hurricanes, whose only win in 11 attempts in Christchurch was seven years ago.
Without inspirational skipper Rodney So’oialo, who was ruled out by a rib injury, the Hurricanes forwards never threatened, which left their potent midfield pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith starved of possession.
From the kick-off the Crusaders were immediately on the attack, although just as quick they were down 0-5 after the first minute when teenage Hurricanes wing Zac Guilford scored a solo try.
The 19-year-old kicked deep down field, charged down Carter’s casual clearing effort and won the race to the ball as it rebounded over the try line.
Carter made amends with two penalties to put the Crusaders ahead 6-5, before a Piri Weepu penalty regained a slight lead for the Hurricanes in the 30th minute.
The constant pressure from the Crusaders eventually paid off late in the half when MacDonald found a gap to scamper over by the posts, with Carter adding the conversion.
Guilford went close to scoring a second try soon after the resumption, but was forced out in the right-hand corner by Kade Poki, who had raced across from the left wing.
The Crusaders responded immediately, forcing the Hurricanes back up the field and ending a series of forward drives by sending the ball wide for MacDonald to score his second try.
Carter converted, added a penalty and then converted Kieran Read’s try when the blindside flanker muscled his way over for the Crusaders to lead 33-8 with 10 minutes remaining.
As coach Robbie Deans emptied the bench the Hurricanes came back with tries to Jeremy Thrush and Neemia Tialata. Replacement fly-half Jimmy Gopperth landed one conversion and Jerry Collins the other.
The one negative outcome for the Crusaders was the loss of senior hooker Corey Flynn with a suspected broken arm early in the match.