The Crusaders booked themselves a home Super 14 final spot with a clinical 33-22 win over the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Saturday, dominating their opponents for long periods.
Huge possessional and territorial superiority finally yielded a killer try by Leon MacDonald with 28 minutes to go, despite brave defence and the occasional thrilling counter-attack by the visitors, in a match played at a furious pace.
Yes, they suffered a setback early on. But it didn't make a scrap of difference. The Crusaders tore into their opponents, ensuring that the Hurricanes were forced to defend, defend, defend. The Hurricanes fed off scraps, but it was never enough for a full feast. once Leon MacDonald had broken the line just before half-time, the game was up.
The stats screen up in the press box flashed up on the half-hour mark, and revealed just how superior the home team was. They had had 88 per cent of the territory up to then - it rarely dipped below 70 per cent the entire game - and 66 per cent of the possession. Robbie Deans wanted a response to last week's defeat against the Highlanders, and he got it. The only worry that might linger is just how long it took to convert the possession into points, but the visitors defended gamely.
After three minutes, the Hurricanes had the lead. Dan Carter, not for the first time in his career, took his time over a clearance kick and had it charged down by Zac Guildford. The teenager pounced on the rebound to score, but Weepu's conversion drifted to the right.
After that it was one-way traffic. The Crusaders swung the ball left and right, varying their play superbly, while the Hurricanes strung themselves across the field and tackled with admirable discipline. It stopped tries being scored, but Carter landed penalties for transgressions by Jason Eaton and Chris Masoe and put his team 6-5 in the lead after 16 minutes.
Momentum grew and grew for the Crusaders. Scott Hamilton went close down the left hand side after some superb miss-passes in the Crusaders' line. Kieran Read would have done better to use an overlap than to grubber through for the chasers. But a try surely had to come.
The Hurricanes did re-take the lead briefly, when a break-out of defence by Cory Jane yielded an offside penalty within Weepu's range. It made not one iota of difference to the shape of the game though, and MacDonald scored his first try of the night two minutes before the break, after eight phases of possession had pulled the Hurricanes defenders from one side to another.
With the weary defence sucked in to the two sides of the field, MacDonald saw a gap through the middle and sliced through to go under the posts. Carter made it 13-8 at the break.
Briefly, the Hurricanes rallied at the start of the second half, but Richie McCaw and Kieran Read came into their own, forcing no less than five turnovers in the first ten minutes. All Hurricanes momentum evaporated, and then some messy work by the back three at a kick gave the Crusaders possession near the line. Nine phases later, MacDonald burrowed over at the back of a ruck, against under the posts. 20-8, and the game was up.
The Crusaders then really did come into their own. Kade Poki broke four tackles on the right from the restart, and then the ball went left to Tim Bateman. Back it cam right to MacDonald, who was tackled by a blatantly offside Masoe. It was almost yellow-card worthy give the field position, but perhaps referee Stuart Dickinson took pity on Masoe after the runaround the Hurricanes had been given.
Carter punished the transgression with three more points.
On and on went the domination, turnover after turnover for the Crusaders being punished with some excellent positional kicks, pinning the Hurricanes back in their own half. Another turnover near the Hurricanes line resulted in a try by Read which Carter converted. Another excellent kick downfield by the self-same Carter gave the Crusaders a penalty, which Carter also converted to make it 33-8. It was one-way traffic.
There were a couple of moments to savour right at the end for the visitors, with another charge down pounced on by Jeremy Thrush for a late try, and a scintillating break by Jane finished off by Tialata - and converted by Collins! Far too little far to late though.
The result brings to an end the Hurricanes' season, which has seen them play some great rugby but still struggle to tie games up at times and take complete control. Meanwhile, the Crusaders head to the final next week with the aberration of last week well behind them. Can anyone seen them losing?
Man of the match: Piri Weepu played superbly for the Hurricanes, he really ought to have fought his way back into the All Black reckoning. All fifteen of the Crusaders starters played their role in the win, Leon MacDonald was good value for two tries, but standing out above them all was Kieran Read. A textbook blindside game.
Moment of the match: The breakout move started by Poki that resulted in Carter's third penalty. It was the tenth point in four minutes, and it was the end of the Hurricanes' hopes.
Villain of the match: A few high tackles flying around, but none of them really malicious.
For the Crusaders:
Tries: MacDonald 2, Read
Cons: Carter 3
Pens: Carter 4
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Guildford, Thrush, Tialata
Cons: Gopperth, Collins
Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Scott Hamilton, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Richard McCaw (c), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Reuben Thorne, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Kahn Fotuali'i, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Sean Maitland.
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Rodney So'oialo/Chris Masoe, 7 Masoe/Scott Waldrom, 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Craig Clarke, 19 Scott Waldrom/Thomas Waldrom, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Tamati Ellison.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Touch Judges: Matt Goddard, Paul Marks (Australia)
TMO: Geoff Acton (Australia)