Home > Rugby, The Drawing Board > The Drawing Board – Semi Final review (02/08/2012)

The Drawing Board – Semi Final review (02/08/2012)

Welcome to Who’s Playing Who?’s weekly rugby blog.  This week sees the culmination of a season of hard work for two teams. They have survived a brutal season. A season that involved a huge amount of travel, more grudge matches and a first ever break has thrown together two teams that can rightfully say they are the best in the competition. This was one of the least expected scenarios to be predicted at the start of the playoffs.

Super Wrap

Chiefs 20 – 17 Crusaders

It was the Chiefs who came out as victors in the first semi-final, as they produced a high intensity game to down the Crusaders. To the delight of the home fans, they managed to get up over the more fancied men from the south island.  All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter came out on the wrong end of his personal battle with the Chiefs’ Aaron Cruden and, despite kicking 12 points, fell short with a late penalty opportunity that could have forced extra time. It was the Chiefs defence that got them home at the end of the day, as they forced the Crusaders back beyond halfway in the dying moments after the visitors had tried in vain to force a drop-goal opportunity.

After a full-blooded opening half-an-hour the Chiefs emerged in credit thanks to Sona Taumalolo’s ninth try of the season, although there were to be further twists before the break. Carter pulled the Crusaders back onto an even keel with a 31st-minute kick, but the Chiefs blew the game open with a stunning try to snatch back their early momentum. Fullback Robbie Robinson was the architect as his break allowed Sonny Bill Williams to force enough space to put a rampaging Liam Messam over.

The Crusaders’ response was swift and exposed a rare defensive lapse from the hosts, with Matt Todd and Carter combining to send centre Ryan Crotty crashing over in the corner. Carter kicked two second-half penalties to Cruden’s one, but the Crusaders were unable to find a cutting edge in the dying stages.

Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw conceded that the Chiefs deserved their victory and admitted they made too many errors to win the game. He said: “We made crucial mistakes and never got our game going which probably comes down to a good Chiefs team but we probably lacked a bit of composure as well. “You can’t win games when you haven’t got that. The Chiefs have set the standard all year, there’s no doubt about that. From our point of view it was disappointing but they probably deserved the win.”

Chiefs captain Craig Clarke said: “It’s pretty unreal at the moment, I just have to look at the scoreboard and let it sink in a little bit. It wasn’t perfect. A couple of scrums went backwards and a couple of line-outs were overthrown so it certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.”

Stormers 19 – 26 Sharks

The Sharks fairy-tale continued as they managed to stun the Stormers with another surprise victory.  They managed to overcome their demanding travel schedule to upset the table tapping Stormers. The Sharks came to the game with more intensity and creativity than their South African rivals.

It was the Sharks pack who laid the platform for this victory, which allowed Frederic Michalak to be able to dominate the contest on his way to 16 points. His influence was also evident in his side’s two tries that were scored by winger Louis Ludik and outstanding centre JP Pietersen.

The Stormers threatened to stage a comeback against a tiring Sharks side in an intense second half with winger Gio Aplon skipping over for a try but they were unable to overhaul a determined Sharks side with the South African Conference title they had already claimed unlikely to be much comfort. A huge hit from Stormers lock Eben Etsebeth on Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis lit up the opening period but his side were largely on the receiving end during a frenetic opening. A desperate tackle from Stormers centre Jean de Villiers denied Sharks winger Lwazi Mvovo a try while Michalak constantly kept the hosts guessing with ball in hand.

Back came the top seeds with winger Bryan Habana and then De Villiers going close on the half hour with the Sharks equally committed in defence with lock Willem Alberts slamming the door shut with a try-saving tackle of his own. The Sharks took a firm grip on the match before the break with the opening try of the game. The Stormers’ defence failed to lay claim to a testing up and under from Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen and Ludik pounced superbly on the loose ball before stepping inside two tackles on his way to the line. Michalak’s conversion helped edge the Sharks into a 13-6 lead at the break and he extended their advantage early in the second half before playing a leading role in Pietersen’s try. The in-form Springboks international had too much power and pace to cross just short of the hour mark and seemingly put the game beyond the Stormers.

Belatedly the Stormers found some rhythm to compliment fly-half Peter Grant’s boot with De Villiers putting Aplon away for a crowd-pleasing score. They looked increasingly dangerous as the game entered the closing stages with Grant bringing his side to within striking range only for Michalak to land his second drop goal and give the Sharks some priceless breathing room. The Stormers launched one final attack in the hope of notching the converted score that would take the game into extra time but the Sharks raised their game once more to round out the win and book another flight – this time to New Zealand to tackle the Chiefs in the title decider.

“The boys put their bodies on the line and it was tough coming to Newlands having spent last week in Australia,” said Sharks captain Keegan Daniel. “But the boys showed resilience”. The front row and the tight five really put their hands up.”

Stormers skipper De Villiers was understandably to see his side fail to reach their first Super Rugby final. “It’s going to take a while to get over this, but we can only blame ourselves, we had 80 minutes to prove we were good enough and we came up short,” he said. “We get such good support but we don’t have a cup to show for it – that’s what makes it tough.”

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