The Crusaders underlined their status as the top team in Vodacom Super Rugby with an uncompromising 40-10 quarter-final defeat of the Cell C Sharks in Christchurch on Saturday.
The 2017 champions will be looking to achieve the double this year, and on the evidence of this match’s showing, should be favourites to win the tournament again this year.
Despite not having things all their own way, they showed the kind of tenacity and patience to wait out the opportunities, and when they come, make sure to finish them off.
The first points of the match came off sustained pressure from the home side following a scrum penalty that was sent to touch. Although the ensuing attack went through numerous phases without reward, the Crusaders eventually earned a penalty which was sent through the uprights.
Moments later the home side capitalized on our mistake as they sent the ball wide, finding an extra man that ended the attack with a try in the corner. The conversion attempt from the touchline was wide but a worrying start for the Cell C Sharks who were battling to keep our hands on the ball.
Coach Robert du Preez had said his team needed to play attacking rugby, but every score, including the next try, came from mistakes we had made, this time the lineout going awry and the Crusaders punishing us with a second try inside 12 minutes of play.
Again the conversion from out wide missed he target, but a 13-0 lead spoke of the dangers of giving the reigning champions any ball possession, particularly on turnovers. It might not have been the start we had planned on, but we fought our way back into the game nicely.
Kobus van Wyk ended off a wonderful movement, himself initially intercepting the ball to start the attack before scoring a great try on the other side, most of his teammates having a hand in the move.
Robert du Preez converted to bring some sanity to the scoreboard and give credence to any naysayers who had given the Cell C Sharks absolutely no chance in this game.
The Crusaders did manage a final score in the last play of the half, opting to kick a penalty to take the home side into a 16-7 halftime lead.
Scoring just before the break is a huge psychological blow to strike on your opponents, and the Crusaders did it again on the other side of the break, within two minutes scoring a third try and converting for a 23-7 lead.
Robert du Preez converted a penalty to reduce the deficit to 13 points but the Crusaders cancelled that penalty out with one of their own a few minutes later. From then on, the Crusaders would not concede another point all game.
With 15 minutes of the match remaining, we had a good opportunity on attack, but the move broke down when the ball was lost forward. 19 unforced errors told a story, not a fairytale one either.
Moments into the final quarter hour, the Crusaders were over for their fourth try after earning a scrum penalty and working their way upfield before a clean pair of heels en-route to the try pushed the Crusaders into an unassailable 33-10 lead.
The fifth Crusaders try came as they attached from their 22, again turning defence into attack as we lost the ball trying to smash through their defence.
At 40-10, there was just one conclusion and it wasn’t a happy one for the touring Cell C Sharks heading into the final five minutes of the game and our Vodacom Super Rugby campaign.
Ultimately things hadn’t gone our way and the rugby gods refused to smile down on us, but the absolutely ruthless way the Crusaders won this game shows why they were the top team at the conclusion of the pool stages.