Stormers 10-29 Crusaders, Super Rugby Semi-Final, July 2
Crusaders set up Reds showdown
July 2, 2011
The Crusaders' Robbie Fruean powers away to score at Newlands
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The Crusaders will play the Reds in this year's Super Rugby finale after crushing the Stormers 29-10 in their semi-final clash at Newlands in Cape Town.
Tries from winger Sean Maitland and centre Robbie Fruean and the clinical boot of fly-half Dan Carter along with a brutally efficient forward effort saw the Crusaders book their 10th final appearance in the last 13 years. The seven-time champions' reward is a date with the Reds at the Suncorp Stadium next Saturday after the Brisbane-based side booked their place and home advantage with victory over the Blues earlier in the day.
A try from winger Bryan Habana just before the break kept the Stormers in the contest but they continually failed to make their territory and possession pay and saw their title challenge fade in the face of a totally dominant Crusaders side who became the first side to win a finals match away from home since they themselves pipped the Brumbies to the Super Rugby crown in Canberra in 2000.
The Stormers, looking to book back-to-back final appearances, conjured the first meaningful break in a frenetic opening with flanker Francois Louw and hooker Tiaan Leibenberg hammering away at the Crusaders' defence inside their 22. The visitors stood firm but an offside infringement allowed fly-half Peter Grant to open the scores from the kicking tee.
The Crusaders rallied with Stormers winger Gio Aplon forced to tidy up behind his own goal line as winger Zac Guildford chased a Carter kick ahead. The Crusaders were soon back on level terms thanks to Carter's metronomic boot after referee Craig Joubert had penalised Grant for holding onto the ball and they soon had the lead. The Stormers looked to move the ball in midfield by No.8 Nick Koster was guilty of forcing a pass that was pounced on by Maitland who raced away for the opening try of the game that was converted by Carter.
A crunching tackle from No.8 Kieran Read on Stormers centre Jean de Villiers then paved the way for Carter's second penalty with his successful long range effort softening the blow of an injury to scrum-half Andy Ellis that saw Kahn Fotuali'i enter the fray.
Unforced errors continued to plague the Stormers' best efforts to force their way back into the contest with a dangerous tackle from Louis Schreuder on Crusaders centre Sonny Bill Williams gifting Carter the chance to slot his third penalty and extend his side's lead.
The Stormers favoured the direct route but got little changed out of the Crusaders' defence until Carter was penalised in the tackle. The hosts gambled by kicking to the corner for the lineout and Grant worked some space inside the 22 before the Crusaders' defence slammed the door shut once again.
In contrast, the Crusaders found ample room with centre Fruean ghosting through after some great work from Read but Stormers centre Jaque Fourie saved the day by plucking the scoring pass to Guildford out of the air before clearing the danger.
The Crusaders were dominated the breakdown and that pressure soon drew another penalty with the Stormers guilty of hands in the ruck. Carter stepped up but this time his relatively easy effort hit the post and was eventually scrambled away.
There was little time to dwell on the miss before the Crusaders took a stranglehold on the game. Williams was the key, drawing two defenders before delivering a trademark off load to his centre partner Fruean who sped in for a try that was converted by Carter. Suddenly the competition's best defence was looking far from it.
The Stormers tried desperately to redress the balance before the break with captain Schalk Burger leading the charge and the industrious Habana was the beneficiary with the winger forcing his way over from a quick tap penalty inside the Crusaders' 22. Grant added the extras but his side were still trailing by 13 points as the sides headed to the tunnel.
Tempers flared early in the second half with Schalk Brits, on for an injured Schalk Burger, involved but he could do little about the Crusaders underlining their dominance at the resulting scrum. The whistle went the Crusaders' way as the Stormers pack crumbled and Carter heaped woe on the home side with a simple penalty.
The Stormers were forced to live off scraps in the face of a committed Crusaders defence who delighted in turning the screw at scrum time. Thankfully for the Stormers, their lineout was more of reliable with lock Andries Bekker a towering presence. Brits capitalised with some good work in midfield before feeding Louw who in turn put Fourie away but the centre was denied by a great tackle from Guildford who forced his rival into touch in the corner before he could ground the ball.
Williams was then lucky to escape with a high tackle on Fourie but Carter was unable to add insult to injury with his next penalty attempt drifting wide of the posts. But his pack soon earned him another chance and this time he made no mistake to hammer a nail in the Stormers' season.
Habana did his best to spark an unlikely revival with a linebreak in the final quarter but the Crusaders' dominance at the breakdown was absolute. Forced to chase the game, the Stormers kicked their next penalty to touch but there was no threat ever emerged. The home fans were already heading to the exits when a contentious decision inside the Stormers' 22 gave the visitors an attacking scrum 5m out and they would have missed some gutsy work from De Villiers to deny Guildford a try.
The Stormers worked tirelessly to add some gloss to the scoreboard in the closing minutes but there was no let-up from the Crusaders who closed out the win to keep their epic season alive.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.