Super Rugby Semi Final Review: And Then There Were Two

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AUCKLAND, NZ – The die has been cast in Super Rugby 2014, after 21 weeks of intense competition the final will be between the 7-time champion Crusaders of New Zealand and NSW Waratahs of Australia in Sydney next weekend. Both sides ran out comfortable score lines in their respective semi finals, however the Tahs win over the Brumbies was a little closer than the 18 point margin might suggest.

Johnny McNicholl finishes off a sweet Crusaders counter-attack.
Johnny McNicholl finishes off a sweet Crusaders counter-attack.

First up was the match at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, where revenge tasted pretty sweet for the Crusaders over the Sharks. Travelling all the way to NZ to take on the best team was always going to be a tough ask for the Sharks and they unfortunately capitulated lamely in this one, getting dominated from the kickoff onwards. Two All Black greats set the tone early for the home side, Dan Carter off the tee and then Kieran Read showed why you can’t afford to miss a tackle in a game as important as this one. After receiving a great ball from Richie McCaw, Read brushed off a pathetic attempt by Paul Jordaan and cruised in under the posts. Pat Lambie knocked over a couple of penalties for the Sharks but Carter answered to maintain a 10 point lead going into the break. The writing was on the wall after big Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo crossed after halftime after some excellent lead up work and the rout was on soon after when the Sharks much-vaunted scrum let them down. After a decent shove from the Crusaders pack the ball squirted out the side of the scrum into the arms of Willi Heinz, who scooted away for a cheeky try. There was time for two more to Johnny McNicholl and Matt Todd, but by this stage the home side was just rubbing in the misery.

The real question to come out of this one is how the Sharks got so bad so fast. Their forwards came in with a reputation of ruthlessly excellent set-piece masters but didn’t fire a shot, maintaining possession for only about a quarter of the time. Whatever precious ball they did get was then needlessly kicked away by Pat Lambie to a Crusaders back three who simply ran it back in towards their forwards to recycle possession. The Crusaders, on the other hand, were all business, showing that for all the angst about their early season form they’ve come right at the right time. Of course, this has been helped greatly by the fact that they’ve been restored to full strength with the likes of Carter, McCaw and Read all slotting back in and playing the sort of footy that’s made them household names in the rugby world.

Crusaders 38 (Kieran Read, Nemani Nadolo, Willi Heinz, Johnny McNicholl, Matt Todd tries, Dan Carter 2 con, 3 pen) Sharks 6 (Patrick Lambie 2 pen)

Man of the match: Kieran Read was outstanding, both with ball in hand and on defense. He’ll be a vital cog in the machine if the Crusaders are to pick a title next weekend.

Kurtley Beale says 'I'll take that, thanks...'
Kurtley Beale says ‘I’ll take that, thanks…’

The next match was over in Allianz Stadium in Sydney, in which a big home crowd watched the Waratahs down the Brumbies. This game wasn’t as much of a one-way traffic affair as the one in Chrictchurch, but the victory was thoroughly deserved nonetheless. Even though the Tahs had to rely on a fortuitous try to open their account, winger Alofa Alofa scooting 60 metres after a Brumbies back line attack broke down and the ball went loose, their dominance meant Bernard Foley could keep knocking over the penalties. The Brumbies did strike back in the first half when Henry Speight went over in the corner and only trailed by three going into the break, but the Waratahs came out fired up in the second. Their passion was obvious in their second try, Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg swamped by a Tahs kick chase and violently stripped of the ball by Kurtley Beale, who raced 30 metres to score. It’s always nice when you can bring a monster off the bench, which the Tahs did with the introduction of Will Skelton for Kane Douglas. The 140kg behemoth swatted off a couple of tacklers on a rampaging run to set up Bernard Foley to score next to the posts and seal the game for the home team.

The Waratahs weren’t perfect in this one, question marks still loom over their line out and they will need to make sure their scrum is working at 100% after seeing what the Crusaders did to the Sharks. Other than that they can be very happy with the way they’re going, this being their eighth win on the trot. Foley’s goal kicking might need a bit of work during the week, though. The Brumbies ended up making it to about where they belonged in season 2014, having had to face some unexpected competition in their conference for a playoff spot and overcoming a shocking run of injuries after the international break.

NSW Waratahs 26 (Alofa Alofa, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley tries, Foley con 3 pen) ACT Brumbies 8 (Henry Speight try, Christian Leali’ifano pen)

Man of the match: Even though he was only on for the last half an hour, Will Skelton showed enough that he’s going to be a real problem for the Crusaders next weekend.

So your Super Rugby 2014 final is:

Crusaders vs. Waratahs, Saturday 2nd August, ANZ Stadium, Sydney. 8pm AET, 10pm NZT

SANZAR will be absolutely ecstatic that Super Rugby’s showpiece match will be held in the largest stadium it can possibly can be (capacity 80,000), also in the city with the largest media market available to them. Time for the weekly awards:

Try of the week: Will Skelton’s considerable injection into the game meant he was able to set up this try to Bernard Foley off a big run and great pass.

Will Skelton you Man-Beast.
Will Skelton you Man-Beast.

Performance of the week: The Crusaders exorcised the demons of their loss to the a 14-man Sharks side earlier in the season with a clinical display that will have the Sharks kicking themselves for dropping the games that cost them home advantage.

Idiot of the week: There’s a few of them here, but the Sharks all fell for Andy Ellis’s ‘I’m milking a penalty’ fake before scooting off to ultimately set up Nemani Nadolo to score for the Crusaders.

Andy Ellis you cheeky little...
Andy Ellis you cheeky little…

Super Rugby semis, done and dusted. Stay tuned for the final preview and my report card for all the teams so far this year coming up later in the week.

That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUpJunoir Blaber, Nick HallJames HarringtonJamie Wall, Jaime LoydDJ Eberle, Cody KuxmannKaren RitterJake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

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About Jamie Wall 131 Articles
Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington, NZ and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre playing career in which the highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on anything to do with Rugby to anyone that'll care to listen.