The Canterbury Crusaders used their powerful pack to devastating effect as they marched into the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals with a 37-15 victory over the Queensland Reds in Christchurch on Friday.
On a chilly evening with a greasy surface after heavy rain, the Crusaders held a one-point lead 15 minutes into the second half before pulling away with three late tries.
The conditions contributed to handling errors and a misfiring lineout by the Crusaders, but whenever the 12-times Super champions were under pressure they turned to their forwards to get out of trouble.
With six All Blacks plus Argentinian Pablo Matera giving them seven internationals up front, the Crusaders decimated the Reds at scrum time to win a succession of penalties.
— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) June 3, 2022
They led 16-8 at half-time and crucially, when the lead was cut to 16-15, they won a penalty from a Reds scrum which led to a try for Richie Mo’unga.
Will Jordan then started a counter-attack from deep in Crusaders territory that resulted in a try to Sevu Reece and replacement prop Tamaiti Williams barged over from close range to complete the scoring.
Despite the final scoreline, Crusaders captain Scott Barrett was not entirely happy.
“We’ve got to be better if we’re going to be really honest with ourselves,” he said before crediting the forwards for keeping their title hopes alive.
“We can get energy from our scrum and defence and that will go a long way to earning us another week in the competition.”
Reds captain Liam Wright believed his side had a chance at the three-quarter mark “but the Crusaders outclassed us in that last 20-30 minutes. Obviously losing our set piece like that makes it a bit tough.”
The Reds put away the kicking game they employed last week when beaten by the Crusaders 28-15 in the final round of the regular season on the same ground and took a more physical approach.
It rocked the Crusaders whose attempt to play an expansive running game was blighted by errors in the face of the Reds hard-nosed defence.
The Reds were on the board first with a handy penalty by Lawson Creighton but the Crusaders struck back almost immediately winning a scrum penalty which Mo’unga slotted.
Jordan and Suliasi Vunivalu exchanged tries before Mo’unga landed two penalties to have the Crusaders eight points ahead at the turn.
A try to flying Fijian Filipo Daugunu immediately after the restart, converted by Creighton, put the Reds back in contention until the Crusaders found an extra gear with their 21-point bur in the closing stages.
In the remaining quarter-finals on Saturday the Waikato Chiefs play the NSW Waratahs, the Auckland Blues host the Otago Highlanders and the ACT Brumbies face the Wellington Hurricanes.
© Agence France-Presse