Crusaders win but lose NZ conference
The Crusaders managed to overcome their final Vodacom Super Rugby league hurdle by defeating the Hurricanes 25-17 in Christchurch on Friday.
However, in their failure to secure a four-try bonus point they handed the New Zealand conference trophy to the Chiefs.
The Crusaders were the only side that could have caught the Chiefs at the top of the New Zealand conference, but in a game which was overshadowed by mistakes, they could only score three tries. They did at least ensure they will give themselves the best possible chance in the playoffs.
The result means the Crusaders can’t be overtaken in fourth place and will play the fifth placed team in the first playoff round next week – likely to be the Reds unless they lose to the Waratahs on Saturday without gaining a bonus point.
The other side that could face the Crusaders are the Cheetahs, currently in fifth place and equal on points with the Reds, but just shading them on points difference at the moment.
But on a night where the Crusaders kept up their unbeaten record at their home ground, they looked a lot more vulnerable than a week ago when they downed the Chiefs in a superb performance. It it weren't for some Hurricanes bungling and a late try to Tom Marshall, they could easily have been on the wrong side of the result.
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Still, a team like the Crusaders know how to win when things get tough and their defence on their own line was exceptional, as was their ability to use turnover ball to score points.
As for the Hurricanes, while they were more than competitive, their age-old problem of looking flash but failing to finish came back to haunt them in a game they could have easily won.
The Crusaders showed their impressive finishing abilities as the Hurricanes fluffed a ball on attack just metres from their opponents' tryline, then managed to have the ball knocked out of their hands and watched as Zac Guildford booted the ball downfield, winning the race to score at the opposite end and give his side an early lead.
The Canes did have a few attacking plays up their sleeves and showed it with intent a few minutes later by running from their own line before a slick inside pass to Victor Vito saw the No 8 step out of a tackle and power his way over the line.
With the conversion missed, the Crusaders held a slender two-point lead and extended it in the 24th minute when Dan Carter popped over a penalty. Another penalty before the break saw the Crusaders hold a healthy 13-5 lead.
The Hurricanes started well in the second half, and with their confidence growing and mistakes letting the Crusaders down, they took the attack forward to camp in the Crusaders' 22 for several phases. They finally got their reward when a beauty of a pass was bulleted to Brad Shields in the gap and the flanker went over without a hand being laid on him.
With their conversions not going over, the Canes fell further behind when TJ Perenara’s kick was charged down and the ball was bobbled back into the hands of Andy Ellis, who accepted the gift to dart over from close range.
But the Canes weren’t about to give up, and it wasn’t long before they were building the phases again and, after one attack which yielded seven of these, Julian Savea found himself in space with enough power to go over and make it a one-point ball game.
The match continued its tense see-saw up until the 78th minute when Marshall received the ball from a turnover. Realising there was no fullback home, he stabbed through a kick that he chased down successfully to give his side a solid, if unspectacular, win.
Crusaders – Try: Zac Guildford, Andy Ellis, Tom Marshall. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalties: Carter (2).
Hurricanes – Tries: Victor Vito, Brad Shields, Julian Savea. Conversion: André Taylor.