Crusaders 38 – 6 Sharks
It truly irks me to say this, but for a while now I’ve been warning supporters of the black and white franchise that it’s only a matter of time before they fall flat on their faces. Unfortunately when accuracy mattered most, the Sharks were at their worst.
The Sharks started the season with a bang, went on an impressive run of form, but in recent weeks they have been dragged down. A string of losses had them scampering and the cracks in their armour were becoming painstakingly obvious.
Like former Springbok coach Nick Mallett said, rugby needs to be either attractive or successful; the Sharks’ game plan was neither. But it’s not only that their tactics were boring, they senselessly stuck to the same tune even though it clearly wasn’t getting them anywhere. The Sharks continuously played into the Crusaders’ hands and when they defaulted to their kicking game, it was poorly executed.
The Crusaders fronted up at scrum time, dominated in the line-outs and completely overpowered the Sharks at the breakdown. Even with the 50/50 calls going their way, the Sharks’ insistence on kicking for territory from first phase possession backfired badly.
About a quarter of an hour into the match, one of these skewed kicks afforded Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo the opportunity to stretch his legs and after bumping a tackler or three out of the way, he got a pass away to captain Kieran Read who strolled over untouched.
That moment marked a turning point in the game. It wasn’t so much a momentum shift as it was the Crusaders collectively deciding to take control of proceedings, up the pace and show their visitors exactly who’s boss.
The fact that the Sharks had absolutely no bite should take nothing away from how well the seven-time champions played. They did everything right. Rucks, mauls, lineouts, scrums. Their first option was always to attack and when they did kick, they were superior under the high ball.
They added another four tries from various field positions, not just to rub salt in the Sharks’ already bleeding wounds, but to show what a well-balanced outfit they are.
Man of the match – Kieran Read
Waratahs 26 – 8 Brumbies
I truly enjoy watching the Waratahs play and firmly believe that they’ve earned the right to host this year’s final – that said, I do feel that they were somewhat fortunate to get past the Brumbies.
I say that only because they were under mountains of pressure for most of the game, never really getting themselves in a position to stamp their expansive style on the game and had they not tackled as if their lives depended on it, the story could very well have ended differently.
Yes, the Waratahs have been one of the best defensive outfits this season, but most of their defensive success comes off the back of their ability to keep the ball away from their opponents. That said, on this occassion they were hardly afforded the chance to run anything. In fact, they were made to feed off scraps for most of the match. They did, however, snap up the odd loose ball and wasted no time in turning those rare opoortunities into points.
The Brumbies were all over the Tahs in the setpieces and I watched with bated breath, waiting for the dam wall to break, but it didn’t. Even though the Brumbies dominated the physical aspects, they somehow failed to breach their hosts’ terrific defensive line. Solid tackles and quick line speed prevented the Canberran visitors from getting on the front foot. They were often hit ball and all, sometimes losing a lot of ground in the process, and no matter how many times they hit back, wave after wave was almost effortlessly absorbed by the log winners.
Whilst one might say the Waratahs were shown up in a number of key areas, the New South Wales franchise proved that they are as capable of winning without the ball as they are with it. A lot of questions were asked of them and they were heavily penalised, but they were able to adapt to the circumstances and simply did what needed to be done. That to me marks the characteristics of a great team. We are in for a cracking final!
Man of the match – Tatafu Polota-Nau
By Jackie Smit (@JackieSmit1)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images