The formidable Canterbury Crusaders stormed into the Super 15 semi-finals with a 38-9 payback victory against the Queensland Reds in the first qualifying match yesterday.
In a stunning performance, the Crusaders scored four tries — two in each half — as they stepped up their drive for an eighth Super crown and shattered the Reds hopes of a second.
They made no secret in the buildup to the game they were still hurting from their 18-13 final defeat to the Reds two years ago and their determination for revenge was evident from the start.
Their all-All Blacks forward pack gained dominance early in the set piece, holes were found in the Reds midfield, and a blitz opening had the Crusaders up 10-0 within 10 minutes.
The expected showdown between fly-halves and likely Test rivals Daniel Carter and Quade Cooper was a nonevent.
Carter was the maestro conductor who dictated the direction of the frantic-paced Crusaders game, while Cooper was content to play a distributor’s role and seldom took on the gain line.
It has been 14 years since the Reds last won in Christchurch and their chances of arresting that losing streak looked remote from the opening minute.
The Crusaders kicked off, regained possession, drew a penalty and Carter had three points on the board while the crowd were still taking their seats.
Center Ryan Crotty then exposed the Reds’ weak midfield defense when he carved his way through for the opening try.
Carter converted and added two further penalties before scoring the Crusaders second try when Sam Whitelock had made huge ground through the Reds’ worrisome middle channel.
Cooper, who landed two first half penalties, kicked a third soon after the break to narrow the gap to 21-9 sparking an immediate response from the Crusaders when Tom Marshall scored off a move engineered by forwards Wyatt Crockett and Matt Todd.
With 20 minutes remaining and leading 28-9, the Crusaders unleashed Richie McCaw, returning after a seven-month break, to a huge roar from the home crowd.
With his first touch of the ball, McCaw sparked the move which resulted in Crotty’s second try. Carter converted for a match haul of 20 points.
Tom Taylor kicked the Crusaders fourth penalty to close out the scoring.
The second qualifier between the ACT Brumbies and Central Cheetahs will be played in Canberra today.
The lowest ranked winner of the qualifiers will play the Waikato Chiefs next week in one semi-final and the winner of the other qualifier will play the Northern Bulls.