The Crusaders scored four first-half tries on their way to a 38-24 victory over the Force in Christchurch on Saturday.
The result secures fourth place on the log for the Crusaders and means that they will play their play-off match next week in Christchurch, although their opponents are yet to be confirmed.
It was an unfair match this - unfair to keep people out for 40 minutes in the foggy winter chill when you have no intention of having a competitive game. Or that's how it seemed. By half-time the Crusaders had got all they could get out of the match in terms of the overall competition and so they slackened off. They led 32-3 at half-time and had their bonus point. They took top players off and scored just six points in the second half.
Two of those four first-half tries were from controversial TMO decisions - by an experienced TMO and quite probably the right decisions. Pity. If they had not been given there may well have been a 'proper', competitive match in the second half.
For one thing in the second half the Crusaders were penalised 12 times and they collected a yellow card. There was nothing edifying in that. Three of the penalties were at scrums after Wyatt Crockett came on for Owen Franks. That was not reassuring for a team of this class.
In his speech of farewell to Super Rugby after 162 Super Rugby matches, Nathan Sharpe, great rugby man, spoke of the Crusaders as the 'form team in the competition'. That must have mean up till half time.
Victory started for the Crusaders inside two minutes and included the first of the controversies. They kicked off, won the kick-off, went through phases and Israel Dagg dived over in the left corner. The ball certainly left his grasp but the TMO believed that he had it in his grasp when he made contact with the ground and so the try was awarded. Daniel Carter converted from touch. 7-0.
The Crusaders were soon back on the attack through Carter, Ryan Crotty, Andy Ellis and Zac Guildford but a turnover won enabled the Force to survive.
From his own 22 Carter kicked long towards the touchline on his right. Trying to catch the ball Napolioni Nalaga, knocked into touch for a Crusader line-out. The Crusaders went wide left where Sean Maitland, over from the right wing, beat Nick Cummins on the outside and then Nalaga on the inside to score. 12-0 after 15 minutes.
Luke Romano was penalised for being offside and Ben Seymour goaled. goaled.
After a promising attack involving Dagg, Guildford, Adam Whitelock and Ben Franks, Cummins was penalised at a tackle and Carter made it 15-3 after 30 minutes,
A Crotty kick and a Guildford chase had the Crusaders back on the attack. Again Cummins was penalised at a tackle and the Crusaders opted for a five-metre scrum. They bashed, the referee asked the TMO if there was a reason not to award a try and the upshot was a controversial try for Ellis, who looked unconvinced. 22-3 after 34 minutes.
There was still time for the Crusaders to score 10 more points. McCaw won ground from the kick-off and Dagg broke. The Crusaders went far right, then far left and Matt Todd scored far out. Carter converted. 29-3. That was the bonus-point try. The Crusaders would be at home next week.
They attacked again, Nalaga was penalised and Carter made the half-time score 32-3.
The Crusaders took off Carter and McCaw at the break and then made other substitutes. Tom Taylor kicked the first of two penalties in the half. The rest of the scoring belonged to the Force.
Young Kyle Godwin, on at flyhalf, scored a try off a difficult pass and from far out Brett Sheehan converted. 35-10.
A penalty gave the Force a line-out on the right.They went left and then right in phases till Alfie Mafi wormed his way over for a try at the posts. 35-17 after 60 minutes.
Taylor kicked a penalty and then broke to send George Whitelock close. Nalaga tackled him and Luke Romano was over but Guildford's pass was forward.
The Force attacked, George Whitelock was yellow-carded, Nalaga tapped and was held up. From the subsequent five-metre scrum Josh Holmes took a pass from Lachlan McCaffery and scored. Kyle Godwin converted. 38-24 with two minutes to play.
Man of the Match: It was not a whole match and for us the Man of the Moment was Nathan Sharpe. What a rugby hero!
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Dagg, Maitland, Ellis, Todd
Cons: Carter 3
Pens: Carter 2, Taylor 2
For the Force:
Tries: Godwin, Mafi, Holmes
Cons: Sheehan 2, Godwin
Yellow card: George Whitelock (repeated infringements, 74 mins)
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Adam Whitelock, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Robbie Fruean.
Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Lachlan McCaffery, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Will Tupou.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Keith Brown (New Zealand), in Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)