Defending champions the Canterbury Crusaders yesterday demolished the Coastal Sharks as the New South Wales Waratahs staged a second-half comeback to reel in the Otago Highlanders and reach the Super Rugby semi-finals.
The Crusaders, in search of a ninth Super crown, underscored their status as competition favorites with a 40-10 thumping of South Africa’s Sharks in Christchurch.
The Waratahs, trailing 23-6 at halftime, stormed home to down the Highlanders 30-23 in Sydney and face either the Golden Lions or Argentina’s Jaguares in the last four.
Skipper Bernard Foley scored 25 points from two tries, three conversions and three penalties, as the Waratahs shifted the game’s momentum with three tries in the space of seven second-half minutes.
The Crusaders scored five tries and a fortress-like defense restricted the Sharks to only one try to extend their winning streak to 13.
They have now not lost at home to an overseas side since the opening round of 2015.
The Crusaders are to host the Wellington Hurricanes next weekend in the semi-finals.
In the clash of the top and bottom qualifiers into the top eight, the Sharks felt they still had a chance when they trailed by only 13 points with 25 minutes to play before the Crusaders ran in two late tries from long range.
However, despite the razzle dazzle, rival captains Sam Whitelock and Ruan Botha agreed the Crusaders defense was a key difference.
“I was just happy the boys stepped up, stayed nice and composed when it was quite tight in the middle,” Crusaders skipper Whitelock said.
The Highlanders looked headed for victory after an impressive opening half, but Waisake Naholo’s yellow card for a high tackle on prop Sekope Kepu in the 52nd minute swung the match with the Waratahs scoring 21 points to take the lead while he was off the field.
“The guys responded after halftime and showed belief in what we have done all year. It’s a helluva story,” Foley said.
“To play in front of our home crowd in what could possibly be our last game in this stadium [which is to be demolished and rebuilt], that’s a special win for us,” he added.
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