Flyhalf Dan Carter scored a try among 20 points as the Crusaders beat the Queensland Reds 38-9 in the Super 15 quarterfinals Saturday to edge closer to their first Super Rugby title in since 2008.
Carter scored the second of four tries by the Christchurch-based Crusaders and kicked three conversions and three penalties – six goals from eight attempts – to reward his team’s physical domination of the Reds, who were champions two years ago.
The Crusaders will play either the Hamilton-based Chiefs or Pretoria-based Bulls in next weekend’s semifinals depending on the outcome of Sunday’s match between the ACT Brumbies and Bloemfontein-base Cheetahs.
If the third-ranked Brumbies beat the sixth-ranked Cheetahs, the Crusaders will play the defending champion Chiefs but if the Cheetahs win they will travel to South Africa to play the two-time champion Bulls.
The Crusaders will face either of those assignments with confidence after Saturday’s comprehensive win. From the start they physically overpowered the Reds in every area.
Ryan Crotty scored first in the 10th minute, running off a pass from Carter who took the ball to the gain-line from a five-meter scrum.
Carter scored his own try in the 30th minute after an outstanding lone break by Sam Whitelock, carried on with quick passes by Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford.
Winger Tom Marshall scored in the 51st minute after Crockett had split open the Reds defense and linked with Todd, who provided the last pass to the try-scorer. The Reds were almost cowed when Reid and Carter combined in the buildup to Crotty’s second try 15 minutes from fulltime.
The Crusaders dominated the contact area with powerful tackles, with physical force and with technique which brought them seven breakdown turnovers. They were able to advance beyond the gain-line at every venture, brushing aside Queensland’s ineffective interior defense. When they did so, creating even partial breaks, there were players in ready support and all Crusaders – backs and forwards – had the level of skill to keep the ball alive and offload in tackles.
Backrowers George Whitelock, Kieran Read and Matt Todd easily thrust their way through tackles then picked out supporting players with well-timed passes. But even tight forwards such as prop Wyatt Crockett and lock Sam Whitelock – the latter one of the most energetic players on the field – had the ability to brush past the shoulders of Queensland tacklers, to extend their arms and feed the ball to teammates in space.
Carter ran vigorously into contact and either passed or established quick and accurate phase play. There was a stark comparison in the record of his opposite number, out of favor Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper, who was so reluctant to take the ball into contact he wasn’t once tackled in the first half, nor did he make a tackle one-on-one.
“That was pretty pleasing,” Crusaders captain Read said. “I guess it’s good to hit your straps at this time of year. … It was a great start from our guys which set the tone pretty early and it continued on from there.
“I think in finals games defense is where your character shows and probably where it’s won. Certainly, we stepped up there from last week and I guess the conditions probably helped,” he added. “We were able to play a bit of free-flowing footy which is nice as well.”
The only Queenslanders to make a significant impact were scrumhalf Will Genia, who placed himself defensively in the backfield to take Crusaders’ kicks and who was steady in that effort.
Lock James Horwill returned to the Reds’ lineup, along with Genia, after leading the Wallabies in their three-test series against the British and Irish Lions. He had an unusually subdued game, hovering mostly in midfield, and was substituted after only 60 minutes.
In contrast, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw took the field as a replacement in the 65th minute to end an eight match “sabbatical” absence from top-line rugby. He carried the ball over the advantage line with his first touch, helping to set up the Crusaders’ final try and the second of the night to center Crotty.
The Crusaders will now attempt to end a title drought which goes back to 2008 when they won their seventh championship: following those they achieved in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006. They remain unbeaten in playoffs matches on their home ground in Christchurch where the Reds haven’t won any game since 1998.
Crusaders 38 (Ryan Crotty 2, Dan Carter, Tom Marshall tries; Dan Carter 3 conversions, 3 penalties; Tom Taylor penalty), Reds 9 (Quade Cooper 2 penalties). HT: 21-6. – AP