May 24 2008

Crusaders push on, Hurricanes drop out.


The Hurricanes and Crusaders went into their Super 14 semi-final in Christchurch both having lost their previous matches, to the Blues and Highlanders respectively. It was the Crusaders who won, decisively, 33 – 22, with a quality display.

Leon MacDonald - MVP.

By Campbell Burnes at AMI Stadium
“They say class is permanent.

That applies to teams as much as individuals, and the Crusaders have it in spades, despite five weeks of insipid rugby.

The final scoreline was an injustice – perhaps in the mould of the Wallabies’ comprehensive 27-23 win over the All Blacks on the same ground 10 years ago – and three tries each was not a fair reflection of this ultimately one-sided affair’. The news for the Hurricanes was bad even before kickoff, with inspirational skipper Rodney So’oialo ruled out with his rib injury. Their bravura from during the week took a blow, but you would not have known it by the two minute mark.

After two Crusaders breaks, by the impressive Leon MacDonald and Casey Laulala, to open proceedings, Daniel Carter took an age to make an easy clearance, and the fast following Zac Guildford charged him down for the try. That was to be the last bit of Hurricanes’ joy for nigh on 75 minutes. Carter lifted his game, and though not at his free-running, imperious best, he slotted seven from seven goalkicks and showed the way forward with his tactical box and bomb kicks. All the Hurricanes could do was tackle their hearts out, but they had no ball – indeed they barely had a lineout throw in the first stanza to bring Jason Eaton into the game – and some of their prime offensive threats were off colour.

The Crusaders, on the other hand, knew exactly what they were doing. Their kick-chase game was methodical and precise, like most of their play. Scott Hamilton ran like a gazelle after carving up for Glenmark for the past month and Tim Bateman made the right decisions with and without the ball.

Still, it was not until the 37th minute when the Hurricanes cracked conceding a try to the rugged and admirable MacDonald.

When Corey Flynn busted his wing early in the first half, the visitors may have thought they had a sniff. Fat chance. Richie McCaw and Keiran Read upped the ante and wore down the pretenders, who resorted to some ill-directed and ill-conceived kicking to force errors. The second try from MacDonald showed his tremendous strength as he carried a couple of Hurricanes forwards over the line. It was then the holes started to open up and the visiting pack started to wilt on the Crusader vine. Read’s try was no classic, either, but highlighted the Crusaders’ ascendancy.

That the Hurricanes finished with two tries in the last four minutes spoke more for the diminished structure in the game than the fact they were pegging back the initiative.

Jerry Collins kicked the final conversion, which had 1-12 and 13+ punters sweating profusely, not to mention journalists wondering aloud about his rugby future here.

To Robbie Deans and his charges, it was all academic by then. They are into their ninth final in 11 years, and that achievement is fully deserved because they won when it counted.
Best and Fairest: Leon MacDonald (Crusaders) 3, Richie McCaw (Crusaders) 2, Daniel Carter (Crusaders) 1.

From: Rugby News 2008, Issue 15, p. 26.

The teams.