Chiefs hold on to beat Crusaders in a classic game. They host the 2013 Super Rugby final next week

The Chiefs will host their second Super Rugby final in as many years after somehow managing to turn the tables on the Crusaders in tonight’s semifinal in Hamilton.

Willed on by a crowd of about 22,000, the home side were on the back foot early in the second half, trailing 9-3 at halftime, only to score the next 17 points, including the first two tries of the match.

Having finished the regular season top of the table, the Chiefs now have the luxury of waiting at home in Hamilton for either the Bulls or Brumbies to travel from South Africa for the final, just as the Sharks had to do last year.

The Crusaders’ lineout proved a real weapon in the first spell, stealing four of the Chiefs’ throw-ins and losing just one of their own, and their scrum provided a solid platform.

But their points all came from the boot of Dan Carter, who kicked three out of four penalty shots at goal as the home side’s discipline let them down in key defensive situations.

And the Chiefs’ error rate was just too high for them to ram home some promising early attacks, while the bounce of the ball evaded fullback Gareth Anscombe when a chargedown promised to deliver a try.

The home side resorted to a disappointing early kicking game in the second quarter that was nowhere near as effective as their ball carrying and wide attacking tactics had been earlier on.

That followed one of the Crusaders’ best scoring chances, albeit from long range, when Tom Taylor broke out of his own 22 and put All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg into space. It took a clever piece of defence from Chiefs centre Charlie Ngatai to intercept as Dagg tried to put winger Tom Marshall away down the right flank.

The Crusaders’ three penalty goals all came within an eight-minute period through the middle of the half and Aaron Cruden’s sole three-pointer also came during that time.

Carter had a crack at a dropped goal after the halftime hooter after a long and patient buildup but he hit it poorly and it skimmed away low and to the right.

The Chiefs dodged a bullet a couple of minutes after the break when, under penalty advantage, prop Wyatt Crockett picked and went through the middle of ruck and put skipper Kieran Read away only for defending winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma to knock the ball up in the air and regather.

To add insult to the Crusaders’ injury Carter hit an upright with his kick at goal and Cruden made no mistake with one of his own a minute later to make it 9-6.

That seemed to lift the home side and skipper Craig Clarke sparked a counterattack, the Crusaders were pinned back in their own corner, a penalty kick at goal was turned down in favour of a lineout and winger Lelia Masaga produced a piece of individual magic, smashing through George Whitelock and two other defenders to score handy to the posts.

The Cruden conversion for a 13-9 lead to the Chiefs was a formality but there was no time to reflect on that as the Crusaders immediately launched a dangerous attack, only to see it founder after immense home defence.

As if that wasn’t enough of a dagger blow to the TAB favourites, big defence by the Chiefs forced a passing error by the visitors and Cruden snatched the intercept and raced 40m to score by the posts and convert.

At 20-9 the Chiefs suddenly had the upper hand, but a piece of superb pace and swerve from Dagg to score in the corner two minutes later ensured the Crusaders stayed in the hunt and Carter converted from wide out to narrow the gap to 20-16.

Cruden had the chance to put the lead out to seven points with 10 minutes to play but his 34m kick from by the touchline just sailed wide of the righthand upright.

Carter didn’t make the same mistake four minutes later when replacement halfback August Pulu conceded a foolish penalty to close it to 20-19 and Cruden’s restart didn’t go 10m.

That meant field position again for the visitors and Carter had an early crack at a dropped goal from a lineout but it went wide and the Chiefs’ defence again proved the key at the end.

Chiefs 20 (Lelia Masaga, Aaron Cruden tries; Aaron Cruden 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals) Crusaders 19 (Israel Dagg try; Dan Carter conversion, 4 penalty goals). Halftime 9-3.

– © Fairfax NZ News

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Are the Crusaders going to end 5 year title drought?

For 65 minutes at AMI Stadium on Saturday night Richie McCaw had the best seat in the house for a performance that may just have instilled the Crusaders as Super Rugby title favourites.

Certainly after their 38-9 demolition of the Queensland Reds in a one-sided quarter-final, the seven-time champions demonstrated palpably that they possess the hunger, the physical edge and, most importantly, the form to end a five-year title drought in red and black country.

The All Blacks captain played the last 15 minutes off the bench in his first appearance at this level in nearly eight months, and even had a hand in his team’s fourth try as they finished a dominant performance in some style.

But with starting openside Matt Todd producing a strong display before making way for McCaw, the test veteran won’t return to starting duty for Saturday night’s semifinal in Hamilton.

Coach Todd Blackadder made it even clearer by suggesting he won’t be “making change for change’s sake” after his starting XV produced the goods so emphatically. He also praised the effort of starting No 7 Matt Todd who had a strong game before making way for McCaw.

McCaw indicated after just his second outing of the year that he would be content to continue in the impact role.

“It might be a bit tough, mightn’t it,” he said of prospects of breaking into the starting XV for the semi. “To be honest I’m just happy to be given a shot to have a run round. I’ll hope for the best next week, but the boys are going good.”

The veteran of 117 tests for the All Blacks admitted the Crusaders would be hard to peg back in this sort of form – they have now won five straight – but offered a qualifier in terms of what Saturday night meant.

“That’s the big trick of sport isn’t it, being able to back those performances up. You do that by preparing well. If we can produce something like that next week we’ll be pretty happy.”

McCaw said his long spell on his much-needed sabbatical had achieved exactly what it had been intended for.

“I was pretty nervous today turning up, and there was just an excitement about getting out on the field. That’s the way rugby should be,” he said.

“I don’t think it had disappeared, but certainly today reminded me why I do it and when you see the boys running round like that … you don’t get to play this game forever, and you want to make the most of every time you get out there.

“That becomes pretty evident when you sit and watch for a while.”

The great man also offered a telling reflection of the motivation that’s fuelling this Crusaders group as they make a remarkable 12th consecutive semifinal appearance, and a 15th in 18 years of the competition.

“A lot of the boys have been in this situation the last couple of years and come up short and it would be pretty disappointing to get this far again and not put our best performance out there.

“There will be four teams now all thinking that same thing, and it comes down to the guys who can put it out there. We’ve got to be hungry and if we can prepare like we did this week and put a performance out there it’s going take a good team to match that.”

It also wasn’t lost on McCaw that so many of his All Black colleagues – most notably Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Wyatt Crockett and Dan Carter – produced top-quality performances to set the tone for the red and blacks.

“That’s the key. The guys who haven’t played international footy just follow on and perform like that because they see it coming from the guys who have been there and done that. Guys like DC, Kieran, Wyatt and Sam all had big games and have been playing pretty well lately.

“That’s what you expect from your top players and when you’ve got them all doing that you sort of feed off each other.”

McCaw highlighted his team’s dominance in the contact area as the facet of the Crusaders game that impressed him most.

“We really stopped their go-forward there and when we were carrying we made the advantage line most times. That’s the key to rugby. When they were struggling to get anywhere they had to kick it and gave us chances.”

And his own fitness after so long out of the game?

“There was a fair bit of running there at the end and I was blowing a bit, but I don’t feel too bad considering. Having had that bit of time out there along with last week, hopefully I’ll be a lot better for it.”

– © Fairfax NZ News

Crusaders team to play the Stormers named

The Crusaders are in South Africa this week to face Cape Town’s Stormers. Despite having won 72% of their games against the Stormers the Crusaders are taking nothing for granted. The Stormers are a formidable side that play a very physical game and on home turf they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Head Coach Todd Blackadder has named his team making four changes to the team that played the Kings last weekend.

Luke Whitelock takes the number eight jersey replacing injured skipper Kieran Read while Tyler Bleyendaal moves into first five-eighth to replace Dan Carter who has remained in New Zealand to be at the birth of his first child.

Israel Dagg returns to fullback, moving Tom Marshall back to the Wing and Zac Guildford to the bench. George Whitelock will captain the side.

The game will also mark a special occasion for inside centre and vice captain Ryan Crotty who will be playing his 50th Super Rugby game for the Crusaders. On the bench, Jordan Taufua will have the opportunity to make his first appearance for the Crusaders if called upon.

Kick-off is at 7:10pm on Saturday 23 March at DHL Newlands Stadium, Cape Town.

Crusaders team to play the Stormers:

1. Wyatt Crockett 9. Willi Heinz Reserves
2. Corey Flynn 10. Tyler Bleyendaal 16. Ben Funnell
3. Owen Franks 11. Johnny McNicholl 17. Joe Moody
4. Luke Romano 12. Ryan Crotty 18. Dominic Bird
5. Samuel Whitelock 13. Robbie Fruean 19. Jordan Taufua
6. George Whitelock (c) 14. Tom Marshall 20. Andy Ellis
7. Matt Todd 15. Israel Dagg 21. Adam Whitelock
8. Luke Whitelock 22. Zac Guildford

The Crusaders record in Super Rugby Finals Series matches is unmatched

One thing is certain at this late chapter of Super Rugby, the Crusaders have ruled over this high stakes, test like intensity semi-final stage since 1998, and when the red and blacks won the title that season, a far advance from a wooden spoon at the tournament’s inception in 1996 – few would have predicted the success that would come their way.

As with every great team that has a ‘slump’ (as some detractors call their lack of a recent title), the Crusaders have a little bit of a point to prove, in the midst of four year absence without the Super Rugby trophy, but seven titles are backed by what are now fourteen semi-final appearances, while the franchise is striving for their eleventh final.

Only three times have the Crusaders lost in the semi-finals, and those were all to the Bulls in Pretoria and Soweto, with the seven-time winners unbeaten against New Zealand and Australian rivals in semi-final action.

The Crusaders record in Super Rugby Finals Series matches is unmatched; winning 19 of 25 matches, a run that has only been tarnished by the Bulls Super 14 era reign from 2007 to 2010.

The Chiefs from a historic standpoint are up against it despite having the luxury of final’s home advantage, a key aspect of any championship winners success (ironically, notwithstanding the Crusaders who won their first three titles on the road).

The Chiefs have appeared in just three Super rugby Finals Series matches, the fewest of any Kiwi franchise, including the Highlanders (with five knockout matches to their credit) who haven’t featured in playoff action since 2002.

But while the Chiefs may have only won the solitary final’s match, they can take solace from the fact that it was at home, where this season the franchise could be on the verge of registering record crowd attendances.

Their 14-10 win against the Hurricanes in 2009 was at the time their best ever final’s result, and this year’s edition will hope to go one further, by beating the Crusaders at home and hoping for a Sharks upset which could bring the Super Rugby decider to Hamilton.

First they must account for a Crusaders team that has the imposing record of seven wins in ten visits to Chiefs territory, so while the seven-time champions look to continue their ledger in Super Rugby Finals Series, the men from the Waikato must account for New Zealand’s standard bearer in the tournament if they are to break their trophy drought.

GAME OF THE WEEK CHIEFS v CRUSADERS

CHIEFS v CRUSADERS

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Head-to-Head: Played 18, Crusaders 13, Chiefs 5
In Hamilton: Played 7, Crusaders 5, Chiefs 2
Last match: Round 3, March 9, 2012: Chiefs beat Crusaders 24-19 at McLean Park, Napier

WE’VE SAID it once and we’ll say it again for the sake of repetition: batten down the hatches, because this is likely to be Super Rugby warfare at its most brutal extreme.

The Crusaders’ dressing room wouldn’t have been the place to be for women and children after the boys in red and black conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against the Hurricanes last week.

Indeed, you’d go a long way to find a better example of a team with such an overwhelming set-piece superiority ultimately losing a match.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, weren’t entirely convincing in their hard-fought win against the Highlanders, though they did get the job done. Aaron Cruden still looked a little banged up from the Achilles problem he suffered in the Hamilton test, while Sonny Bill Williams was perhaps guilty of being too easily goaded by a couple of bruisers from the ’Landers pack.

The Crusaders have welcomed back Dan Carter, Israel Dagg and Kieran Read from the casualty ward.

The visitors certainly won’t have everything their own way in the set-pieces this time round.

In fact, the Chiefs taught them a lesson in power-scrummaging when the sides met earlier this season at McLean Park.

That was a ‘home’ game for the Crusaders, because the new AMI Stadium wasn’t yet ready, but the result ended up going the way of the ‘away’ team, which featured several members of the local Hawke’s Bay ITM Cup side.

Our prediction: Crusaders 1-12

CRUSADERS v REDS -Game of the weekend Sunday 6am SA time


When: Sunday May 6,
Where: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Head-to-Head: Played 18, Crusaders 12, Reds 6
In Christchurch: Played 6, Crusaders 5, Reds 1
Last match: Final, July 9, 2011: Reds beat Crusaders 18-13 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

We have a replay of the 2011 Super Rugby final, and it throws up all sorts of possibilities and prospects.

A Crusaders unit that is starting to hum – with consecutive impressive victories over the Stormers, Hurricanes and Waratahs to work off – up against the defending champs, who have been mediocre for much of the year, but scored an important, if ugly, 23-11 win in Auckland.

Halfback Will Genia and No 8 Scott Higginbotham took charge in the crucial area that links the backs and the forwards. The result was a clear implementation of the game plan.

They will again need to step forward if the Reds are to be a chance against the home-town boys. The Genia-Andy Ellis battle is sure to be intense.

Afternoon rugby agrees with both teams, and the Crusaders relished playing under the sun in a 37-33 win over the Waratahs in Sydney. Some of the defence was less than watertight, but give the ball to Robbie Fruean and he has game, as a colleague pointed out during his two-try demolition of the ’Tahs.

Digby Ioane will love the challenge of taking Fruean on with the ball, but will have to steel himself without it if they clash head-on.

And while Dan Carter feels his way back into top gear, Richie McCaw has made his long-awaited return. It was a solid return too, and opens the door for him to start this weekend to combat the Liam Gill-Beau Robinson fetching duo that has been so effective for the Reds of late.

This is still a must-win affair for both sides, the Crusaders anxious not to lose ground to the Chiefs and Highlanders, who keep winning, while the Reds know they are just six adrift of the Brumbies in the weak Australian Conference.

My prediction: Crusaders 13+

source rugbynews.co.nz

My Super Bru picks for this weekend

Game Date and time Your pick
[55] Highlanders v Blues 20 Apr 19:35 (local)
20 Apr 09:35 (your time*)
Highlanders by 7
[56] Reds v Stormers 20 Apr 19:40 (local)
20 Apr 11:40 (your time*)
Reds by 7
[57] Hurricanes v Crusaders 21 Apr 19:35 (local)
21 Apr 09:35 (your time*)
Crusaders by 5
[58] Waratahs v Rebels 21 Apr 19:40 (local)
21 Apr 11:40 (your time*)
Waratahs by 7
[59] Sharks v Chiefs 21 Apr 17:05 (local)
21 Apr 17:05 (your time*)
Chiefs by 8
[60] Bulls v Brumbies 21 Apr 19:10 (local)
21 Apr 19:10 (your time*)
Bulls by 7
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