Sportal.co.nz 20.Jul.2013Getty Images
Demonstrating a superior tactical plan, one that involved moving the ball through short passes close to rucks and mauls, even in their own 22m area, the Crusaders denied the Reds their traditional methods of play. The visitors were not helped by inconsistency in their tight quarter where key lineout ball was conceded at inopportune times while the scrum was unable to provide the necessary platform.
Crusaders first five-eighths Dan Carter was a maestro in leading the offensive strategy for his side with an all-round display that demonstrated that his powers are nowhere near being in decline. A try, three conversions and three penalty goals were matched by his hand in three other tries as a result of his passing and placement skills.
The Reds employed their sweeping defensive system through halfback Will Genia and first five-eighth Quade Cooper. But a lack of kicking to their positions left their usual tactical options virtually redundant and certainly cut down their counter-attacking options. Key players for the Reds both Genia and Cooper were marginalised and taken completely out of the match equation.
While possession was shared in the first half, the Reds never got within try-scoring distance of the Crusaders' line and were lucky not to concede two more tries at least. Their frustrations were demonstrated after a break by replacement No.8 Radike Samo. Genia was on hand in support, but the Crusaders defence was able to deny the Reds the ball.
Flanker Liam Gill, who fought a lone battle for his side at the breakdown, had cause for sympathy with the Crusaders after driving from a ruck at the line but, as had been the case with two similar instances for the home team in the first half, the video evidence was deemed inconclusive.
Carter opened the scoring with a second minute penalty goal but it was around the eighth minute after a break by fullback Israel Dagg, which was followed by a strong surge at the line by lock Luke Romano that the Crusaders gained the initial momentum. After referee Jaco Peyper asked for a video assessment of a prospective try a scrum was called.
The Crusaders made the most of their feed for Carter to send a short pass to centre Crotty running back on the angle sliced through to score under the posts.
Quade Cooper posted the first points for the Reds with a 19th minute penalty goal which he repeated in the 27th minute. Carter added his second in the 24th minute.
But then a stunning mid-field break by lock Sam Whitelock who beat the tackles of Reds No.8 Jake Shatz and halfback Will Genia before setting up a quick ruck which saw Dagg and wing Zac Guildford move the ball to Carter who, lurking wide, pushed off the tackle of fullback Ben Lucas to score.
While he couldn't add the conversion from wide out, he landed a 39th minute penalty goal.
Cooper opened the second half with a penalty goal but in the 52nd minute, Dagg running close to the ruck drew the defence before unloading to prop Wyatt Crockett who ran a superb line to find Todd in support and he was able to get a pass to wing Tom Marshall to effectively end the Reds hopes.
The Reds had a belated and sustained, if unimaginative, period on attack around the three-quarter mark but as Cooper attempted a set-up in the Crusaders 22m area he was swamped by home defenders.
Carter got a foot to the ball to kick it ahead in the ruck. Replacement hooker Ben Funnell toed it on and then replacement halfback Willi Heinz nailed wing Dom Shipperly who was unable to hold the ball. It was cleared to touch but the Crusaders won the lineout, and Richie McCaw marked his first touch of the first-class season but contributing to a driving run which saw Carter take another gap and find Crotty in place for his second try of the night.
Never beaten in a play-off game at home, the Crusaders will hit the road to play their semi-final in either Hamilton or Pretoria depending on the outcome of the Brumbies-Cheetahs game in Canberra on Sunday.
Crusaders 38 (Ryan Crotty 2, Dan Carter, Tom Marshall tries; Carter 3 con, 3 pen; Tom Taylor pen) Reds 9 (Quade Cooper 3 pen). HT: 21-6