… they (The Crusaders) seem to be in a different class from everyone else. Melbourne sports correspondent, John Smith
Predictable quarter finals
By Roger Childs
The four home teams qualified for the semis next week and only the Highlanders looked like springing an upset.
However, they squandered a 17 point half time advantage in Sydney, as the Waratahs roared back to win 30-23.
The Lions beat the Jaguares to seal a home semi final against the Australians, while the Crusaders thrashed the Sharks 40-10 to set up a clash with the Hurricanes next Saturday in Christchurch.
The teams have a win apiece against each other this season, however the smart money will be on the home side next Saturday.
A team without weaknesses
The Canterbury-based franchise qualified comfortably at the top of the table after round-robin games and their form has been impressive leading up to the finals. This is a very well balance team which is equally efficient on attack and defence.
A few years back, the Crusaders had the best pack in the completion, but the backs, apart from couple of All Blacks like Israel Dagg and Ryan Crotty, were young and inexperienced. However they were fit and keen, and have learnt fast.
At half back, Bryn Hall can match others in the competition, and his speed in clearing the ball and long passing has given the outside backs plenty of room to move. Richie Mo’unga at first five has been one of the team’s stars in 2018. As well as being a quality goal kicker he has great handing skills, tremendous speed and the ability to break the line.
Crotty is an old hand at centre and has been great at putting his outside backs into scoring positions. Youngsters David Havili and Jack Goodhue have improved in the last couple of years to the extent that that have both featured in All Black squads.
Top class forwards
The Crusaders pack is riddled with All Blacks, and the recent return of Kieran Read has made them even stronger for the finals.
They are well captained by Sam Whitelock who always leads by example. Matt Todd is the best exponent in the country at winning turnovers from rucks, and on the world stage probably only Aussie David Pocock can match him.
The one South Island based Barrett, Scott, has come of age in 2018 as his superb All Black performance in the third test against France demonstrated. He is equally impressive in the tight and the loose.
The depth in the Crusaders forwards is underlined by the bench which includes internationals Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano. These guys certainly make an impact when the come on as replacements.
Getting the tactics right
The Crusaders are very well coached and have a great team culture. On the field they back one another up and always seem to have players in support to finish off promising breaks with tries.
They are quick to punish opposition mistakes and will exploit the opportunities to attack from anywhere. Fit and fast, they often have an extra man running onto the ball to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Whereas other teams sometimes waste time keeping the ball in the back of the scrum, the Crusaders invariably spin it out to set up players with room to move.
They are definitely the form team, and although the Hurricanes have a star studded team their lack of consistency means that they are unlikely to upset the home team on Saturday.
The Crusaders are a champion side and deserve to win the Super Rugby competition for the second year running.