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Super Rugby: Crusaders charge into final with five-try demolition of Sharks
Seven-time champions Crusaders are through to the Super Rugby final after thrashing the Sharks 38-6 in a pulsating Christchurch affair.
After being beaten 30-25 on home soil by the South Africans in May, the Crusaders exacted revenge on Jake White’s Sharks and roared into the final, which sees them travel to Sydney to face the New South Wales Waratahs, with an emphatic performance.
Kieran Read, Nemani Nadolo, Willi Heinz, Johnny McNicholl and Matt Todd all crossed the whitewash in a resounding Crusaders triumph, with two Pat Lambie penalties all the Sharks could offer.
Seldom are the Sharks outmuscled but they had no answer for Todd Blackadder’s menacing troops at the AMI Stadium with the potent back-row combination of Read, Todd and Richie McCaw continually thrusting the hosts onto the front foot.
Their full-frontal attack presented an ideal platform for the Crusaders and the Sharks defence succumbed to the pressure in only the third minute, gifting Dan Carter – posted at an unfamiliar inside centre as his return from a six-month sabbatical continues – a simple opportunity to collect three points.
So much of the Sharks success has been courtesy of their excellent kicking game, but it proved to be their downfall throughout the first period in Christchurch.
Paul Jordaan’s clearance was charged down and the Crusaders spun the ball left with fine speed and a neat offload from McCaw set up No 8 Read, who underlined his IRB World Player of the Year title by slipping two defenders on his way under the posts.
With their kicking game faltering, the Sharks offered evidence they can play with ball in hand as they launched a thrilling counter attack which had the Crusaders defence momentarily rattled.
An infringement at the breakdown allowed Sharks fly-half Lambie to finally get the visitors on the board, while the capacity Christchurch crowd took the opportunity to draw breath after a scintillating opening quarter.
Despite the Sharks’ rare foray downfield, it was the Crusaders who remained in the ascendancy and Carter continued to build their lead with two penalties in quick succession as the South African franchise continued to crumble under pressure.
Lambie added his second penalty five minutes before the break, but his failure to reduce the Sharks’ deficit to seven on the cusp of half-time proved to be a sign of things to come.
Again the Crusaders made a rampaging start after the interval and when Corey Flynn, who led the side out on his 150th appearance, forced a turnover on halfway Carter pressed the accelerator.
The All Black slipped a pass to Colin Slade on the inside and the fly-half sent Nadolo flying over the line as the Crusaders established a 15-point lead.
Lambie missed his chance to give hope to a floundering Sharks’ bid and they paid the ultimate price moments later as they stood by as the match was taken out of reach.
First replacement scrum-half Heinz seized on a loose ball off the back of a Sharks scrum to slide over, before fellow substitute McNicholl forced his way over from close range as the Crusaders took a 33-6 lead with 10 minutes to play.
Todd added a fine gloss on the brink of full-time as a fantastic driving maul rolled over the Sharks line and how fitting a finish it was for a Crusaders pack which dominated all night.Super 15. Click here to bet.