WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The ease with which the Canterbury Crusaders dispatched the Sharks in their Super Rugby quarter-final on Saturday has only served to cement their status as favourites for a ninth title.
Scott Robertson’s side did not play as well as they have done throughout the season but still managed to beat a combative Sharks team 40-10.
The victory ensured a block-buster semi-final against the Wellington Hurricanes, who were seeded fourth despite finishing with the second-best points tally in the competition, next Saturday in Christchurch.
“We know how dangerous they are, we have a great rivalry,” Robertson said. “It’s what Super Rugby needs, to have a big semi-final like this.
“Any team that plays the Hurricanes knows to expect anything. Especially with the kind of individuals they have got in regards to flair. But they are a brutal side as well.”
The Hurricanes advanced to the last four after their 32-31 victory over the Waikato Chiefs in Wellington on Friday, a scoreline that flattered the visitors, who grabbed two converted tries in the final two minutes.
It was the type of performance that showed the Hurricanes, on their day, are tough to stop and coach Chris Boyd said they had more in the tank ahead of the Christchurch clash.
“We can play better than that,” Boyd said. “We’ve just got to keep bringing higher levels of intent and physicality and accuracy for longer periods of time and I think we can do that.”
In previous meetings the Crusaders have been adept at shutting down the Hurricanes, particularly in wet conditions in Christchurch, by cutting off quality ball to scrumhalf TJ Perenara, thereby negating the influence of World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett.
Crusaders number eight Kieran Read said they would again focus on stifling supply to the Hurricanes backs.
“It is really crucial for us that we don’t give their backs ... much quality ball,” the All Blacks captain said. “That will be the emphasis through the week.”
The winner of the all-New Zealand semi-final will face either the Lions or New South Wales Waratahs on Aug. 4, with the South Africans favoured to make their third successive final.
They dominated the Jaguares in a 40-23 victory in Johannesburg, while the Waratahs were less than convincing in overcoming the Otago Highlanders 30-23 in Sydney.
The Highlanders were on top for much of the match and were leading 23-6 when winger Waisake Naholo was sinbinned for a high tackle. The Waratahs exploited the extra man to run in three converted tries to snatch the win.
“On balance we played very poorly and we still won the game,” Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.
“So it shows we’re a good side.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford