Crusaders beat Chiefs 20-7 to reach 16th Super Rugby final

·3-min read
Cullen Grace of the Crusaders scores a try during the Super Rugby Pacific semifinal against the Chiefs in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, June 10, 2022. (John Davidson/AAP Image via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Christchurch-based Crusaders will play in a Super Rugby final for the 16th time in 26 years after a magnificent defensive effort Friday in a 20-7 semifinal win over the Hamilton-based Chiefs.

The Crusaders overcame a heavy penalty count and a red card to former Argentina captain Pablo Matera to retain an unbeaten record in 26 home playoff matches since the tournament began in 1996.

Matera was sent off after receiving two yellow cards in the first 32 minutes — the first for his team’s repeated offending and the second for a dangerous tackle.

The Crusaders scored the second of two first-half tries to backrower Cullen Grace after Matera's dismissal which allowed them to go into halftime with a 20-7 lead after playing with a strong wind at their backs.

The Chiefs weren’t able to alter that score, though they played with the wind behind them in the second half. They had 61% of possession and 68% of territory throughout the match but the Crusaders made 222 tackles to hold them out and they managed only a first-half try through prop Angus Ta’avao.

“I think behind however many tackles there was, there was a great effort,” Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said. “You have to take your hats off to the Chiefs, they threw 120 percent at us and I’m sure there’s going to be some sore boys in the next few days.

“We like a challenge. At times we were down to 14 men and we had to front. Finals footy is about defense and there were plenty of good efforts there.”

The penalty count went against the Crusaders 13-6 but could have been much higher. The Crusaders were almost perpetually offside but Australian referee Nic Berry was extremely generous to the home team.

He issued a warning to the Crusaders after they had conceded three consecutive defensive penalties in a crucial period during the middle of the second half that the next infringement could result in a yellow card. Instead, he allowed seven penalties in a row before he sent Matera to the sin bin.

The match pivoted on that period. The Crusaders spent more than 10 minutes pressed up again their goalline by the Chiefs who desperately tried to break through the defense. Having shut out the Chiefs, the Crusaders broke out in the 23rd minute and went the length of the field to create Grace’s first try which gave them a 13-0 lead.

The Chiefs spent long periods inside the Crusaders 22 in the first half but managed only one try, in the 26th minute when Ta’avao skidded over.

The Crusaders were left with 14 men for 20 minutes after Matera received his red card when his shoulder contacted the head of Chiefs flyhalf Bryn Gatland in a standing tackle. Despite that disadvantage, they scored again when flyhalf Richie Mo’unga broke the Chiefs’ defense; prop George Bower took the ball on and from the quick recycle Mo’unga sent the all wide to Grace who was unmarked as the defense struggled to reset.

The Chiefs were almost constantly on attack in the second half and the Crusaders’ tackle count climbed to a record for a Super Rugby match. But there was no way through the defense. Whenever a Chiefs attack looked promising, the move would break through a poor pass or bad handling.

“I guess the Crusaders had three chances and took all of them and we had more and didn’t take enough of them,” Chiefs captain Brad Weber said. “That one really hurts. It’s one of those ones where we feel like we lost it rather than they won it.”

The Crusaders will play the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal between the Auckland-based Blues and ACT Brumbies in the final.

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