Crusaders 38 Sharks 6
Waratahs 26 Brumbies 8
The Sharks did not bring their kicking game to Christchurch. Or their scrummaging game, or lineout. You can’t hope to win a semi-final if you don’t execute the basics.
The Crusaders, very much by contrast, came with a thought-through game plan and stuck to it with gusto: run them ragged.
The Crusaders in finishing second on the table had earned two critical advantages for this semi:
- playing at home, and
- having a week off while the Sharks had to play-off against the Highlanders. In the regular season a bye week can work against your rhythm, but at this stage it’s a gift to be able to rest and refuel.
And remember the Sharks had to sit inside an aluminum tube for 24 hours. Ah, the glamour of international travel.
So it’s maybe no surprise they couldn’t execute when they ran into a red and black brick wall. The Crusaders play a rigorous, even ruthless, rugby. It’s not always romantic. Just effective.
A mark of that rigour was the coach’s use of the bench. Blackadder brought on his first subs at 53 minutes, including swapping Andy Ellis for Willie Heinz at halfback. It was a cruel statement about increasing the pace of the game just when you would expect the jetlag to be cramping the Sharks’ legs.
Just as significantly Blackadder did not sub Carter or McCaw even when the game was safe. Rather than protect the old warriors he opted to give them the full eighty minutes for extra match fitness ahead of next week’s final. Smart
In the Sydney semi-final, two words: defence and dumb.
The Waratahs defence was awesome in the face of huge possession and territory by the Brumbies.
It was a rushing and swarming defence: fast off the line, and several people getting to the ball carrier quickly. Which I’m picking will be picked apart by the Crusaders next week. It leaves too many holes if you’re smart enough to spot them.
And the Brumbies, despite all their endeavour, were not nearly smart enough. Especially when they turned down multiple opportunities early in the second half to kick penalties, preferring to kick into the corner for lineouts. With the result that they were playing desperate catch-up stuff in the final fifteen minutes, and the Waratahs duly capitalised with a couple of against-the-flow tries.
Dumb dumb dumb.
The Waratahs won’t be able to rely on that kind of gift next week.