GARETH DUNCAN watched the Crusaders book a home wildcard play-off place with a 38-24 bonus-point win over the Force in Christchurch.
The Crusaders’ objective for this match was clear: secure the win with four tries, and they’ll have home ground advantage for the wildcard play-offs next weekend. And Todd Blackaddder’s charges did so convincingly, crossing the chalk for the fourth time by the 36th minute.
The hosts delivered an effective attacking performance in the first half, spreading the ball from end to end and exposing a weak Force defence with smart interplay and strong runs. This saw fullback Israel Dagg, wing Sean Maitland, scrumhalf Andy Ellis and flank Matt Todd score tries.
However, Dagg and Ellis’ five-pointers were questionable according to the television replays. Dagg, who sneaked in at the corner inside 50 seconds, lost the ball forward, while Ellis made a clear double movement 30 minutes later. But both tries were still approved by the TMO.
Maitland capitalised from a smart set-piece move, while Todd powered over following good continuity with ball in hand. Flyhalf Dan Carter added three conversions and three penalties.
The Force struggled on attack, and only managed a penalty via pivot Ben Seymour. The Crusaders held a 32-3 at the break.
With a comfortable buffer and the four-try bonus point in the bag, Blackadder decided to take off skipper Richie McCaw and Carter at half-time. But these changes saw the Crusaders struggle to build momentum in the second stanza.
They failed to cross the chalk in the final 40, and only managed two penalties via replacement flyhalf Tom Taylor.
The Force took advantage of the Crusaders’ shortcomings and rallied through for three consolation tries via reserve flyhalf Kyle Godwin, fullback Alfie Mafi and replacement scrumhalf Josh Holmes.
Blackadder will be disappointed with his team’s finish to the match, but he’ll be delighted with the fact that the Crusaders will start the knock-out phase on their own turf.