Vodacom Super 14
Crusaders reach S14 semis
Christchurch - The Crusaders clinched a Super 14 semi-final place in an emphatic 40-22 do-or-die final round victory over the Brumbies in Christchurch on Friday.
The Crusaders were too efficient at the set pieces for the Brumbies, too committed on defence and showed flashes of brilliance on attack as they secured a semi-final spot for a record 12th time.
Before the game, the Brumbies were lying in fourth place with 37 points and the Crusaders were sixth on 36, with the winner of Friday's game assured of a top four spot.
The Crusaders have had a torrid time recently, losing their last three games on the road and captain Richie McCaw was relieved his team were able to turn their fortunes around at the crucial time.
"We have had teams in trouble and have let them off the hook with our own mistakes and we were pretty keen to make sure that didn't happen (against the Brumbies)," McCaw said.
"I thought it was a pretty strong performance over the whole game."
The New Zealand team took a while to settle in the first half but took control midway through the spell to go into the break 22-10 ahead before clinching the five-try-to-three victory.
The Brumbies - with veteran flank George Smith playing a farewell game - had a strong territorial advantage in the first quarter but the Crusaders dominated for the following three and were sharper on attack.
The Crusaders used kicks behind the Brumbies first line of defence to launch attacks and deft work by winger Zac Guildford and a rampaging No 8 Kieran Read played a strong part in two of the three first-half tries.
Crusaders wing Sean Maitland scored first after 11 minutes after a break by Guildford, and Read and prop Owen Franks added another two touchdowns in the first spell.
The Brumbies' sole try in the first half came after 17 minutes when a pass by Crusaders inside centre Daniel Bowden was intercepted by Brumbies outside centre Tyrone Smith to race away for a touchdown converted by Matt Giteau.
The margin was cut to five points four minutes after the break when Brumbies prop Ben Alexander scored a converted try.
But the half-time margin was restored six minutes later when Crusaders forwards drove over from a breakdown close to the line and McCaw rose from the huddle of bodies to claim the try.
Two Carter penalties, the second with 11 minutes remaining, stretched the margin to 18 points, seemingly putting the match out of the Brumbies' reach.
Guildford was rewarded for his top-notch performance with a late try and replacement Brumbies' forward Huia Edmonds hit back right on full-time.
All Black star flyhalf Dan Carter missed two relatively easy penalty attempts early but finished with 15 points from the boot, while Wallabies rival Giteau kicked two conversions and a penalty.
The Crusaders picked up a full-house of five points for their victory and temporarily moved into second position in the standings, but cannot be displaced from the playoffs no matter the results of the remaining Round 14 fixtures.
The Brumbies left Christchurch empty-handed and slipped to fifth in the standings - and out of semi-final contention.Teams:Crusaders:
15. Colin Slade, 14. Sean Maitland, 13. Robbie Fruean, 12. Daniel Bowden, 11. Zac Guildford, 10. Dan Carter, 9. Andy Ellis, 8. Kieran Read, 7. Richie McCaw (captain), 6. George Whitelock, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Brad Thorn, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Ti’i Paulo, 1. Ben Franks
Substitutes: 16. Dan Perrin, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Chris Jack, 19. Thomas Waldrom, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Tim Bateman, 22. Jared PayneBrumbies:
15. Julian Huxley, 14. Pat McCabe, 13. Tyrone Smith, 12. Matt Giteau, 11. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10. Matt Toomua, 9. Josh Valentine, 8. Stephen Hoiles (captain), 7. George Smith, 6. Rocky Elsom, 5. Mark Chisholm, 4. Mitchell Chapman, 3. Salesi Maafu, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Ben Alexander
Substitutes: 16. Huia Edmonds, 17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18. Ben Hand, 19. Colby Faingaa, 20. Patrick Phibbs, 21. Brackin Karauria-Henry, 22. Andrew Smith