Super Rugby: Semifinals breakdown

5:13 pm on 1 July 2019

Analysis - The Crusaders in the Super Rugby final? No surprises there.

Kieran Read of the Crusaders. Crusaders vs. Hurricanes. 2019 Investec Super Rugby Semi Final. Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.

Crusaders loose forward Kieran Read in action against the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby semifinal in Christchurch. Photo: Photosport

You could have predicted that before the season started. Not so Saturday's opponents the Jaguares, whose rise to the top owes plenty to the ineptitude of South Africa's franchises.

But before we get to the decider, let's review how the two finalists got there.

A Super semi

If the Crusaders go on to beat the Jaguares in Christchurch, they'll be worthy champions. We know this because they beat the competition's second-best team to qualify for the final.

The Hurricanes were the only other side whose programme could be described as high performance in 2019, winning 13 matches up until what was a respectable - if predictable - end to their campaign against the Crusaders.

The final score of 30-26 rightly indicates both teams enjoyed some fine semifinal moments, treating fans to a standard of rugby the Jaguares are unlikely to reach.

From coach Scott Robertson on down, the Crusaders talked of the match being worthy of a final. They were well aware that they'd beaten the most-serious pretender to their crown.

How do they do it?

Crusaders first five-eighth Richie Mo'unga is a heck of a player, but he's not winning games by himself.

Yes, he has to execute a lot of the plays that generate the team's points, but always in concert with others.

Richie Mo'unga

Richie Mo'unga continues his rich vein of form in Super Rugby. Photo: Photosport

The Crusaders sell moves so well. There are always bodies in motion when Mo'unga gets the ball. Is he going to run? Will he pass short or is it long? Should you anticipate the crosskick or will be just dink one over the top?

Mo'unga's ability to take the ball to the line in two hands is a definite asset, but only because of the quality of the runs being made by those around him. Defences don't know if those guys are the likely recipient of the ball, or just decoys, and that split second of uncertainty is all the Crusaders need.

Not only is that the result of great coaching and ideas, but the buy-in of the blokes out on the park. It's also great to watch.

More a breeze than a Hurricane

What was up with the Hurricanes' selections and gameplan? It was almost as if they'd gone south anticipating a 20-point defeat and just wanted to limit the damage.

To beat the Crusaders, you actually have to beat them. They won't beat themselves.

The kicking away of possession, for the bulk of the first half was one thing, but the composition of the side lacked intent as well. The Jonah Lowe/James Marshall one-two punch was ineffective and odd, given Hurricanes coach John Plumtree had Salesi Rayasi at his disposal. Similarly Reed Prinsep's retention ahead of Vaea Fifita.

Sure, Fifita was short of a gallop after suspension, but it was explosive players such as he and Rayasi and Ben Lam and Ngani Laumape who could've troubled the Crusaders, because the first-half kicking game sure didn't.

Hurricanes coach John Plumtree.

John Plumtree's tactics for Saturday's match were questionable, according to Hamish Bidwell. Photo: Photosport

The hand of Sam

It's easy to isolate one incident and project all sorts of alternative outcomes.

The fact is every decision in a rugby match represents a sliding-doors moment, whether they're in minute one or minute 80.

No matter whether you're a Hurricanes or Crusaders supporter, or how you interpret rugby's law book, nothing alters the final big play of Saturday's match. Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara picked the ball up, Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock knocked the ball from his grasp and referee Nic Berry said knock on, scrum Crusaders.

Whether Berry should or shouldn't have is immaterial. What you can say, though, is he was an inadequate choice to referee that match, as was Mike Fraser for the Jaguares vs Brumbies semi.

These games call for Jaco Peyper or Glen Jackson or Angus Gardner. Not guys who are still doing their apprenticeship.

The No.9 discussion

We're forever being drawn into a debate about whether Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo'unga is the better first five-eighth. The bottom line is All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is certain that it's Barrett and that's all that matters.

Daniel Carter did his time behind Andrew Mehrtens, then Barrett behind Carter and now Mo'unga's waiting for Barrett to go on sabbatical or whatever. Until then, though, Hansen won't alter the succession plan.

Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara.

TJ Perenara had arguably his best season for the Hurricanes in 2019. Photo: Photosport

What is potentially worthy of discussion, however, is what's happening at halfback. Aaron Smith has long been New Zealand's starter there, with Perenara the perennial back-up.

But such is Perenara's form and workrate and general influence over a match, that you wonder if the established pecking order could change. It's definitely worth discussing.

How about those Jaguares

The Jaguares are such an admirable side and have brought colour and life to an ailing competition.

There's no subtlety about their footy. It's confrontational and basic and very effective on its day.

Against the Brumbies, the Jaguares again showed an ability to read where the opposition's lineout throws are going and to beat their jumpers to the ball. They compete harder than anyone at the breakdown and their defensive linespeed is impressive.

They won't play you off the park, but they will compete and harry and force you into errors. When you inevitably infringe, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla is an expert goalkicker. If you spill the ball, then Sebastian Cancelliere, Matias Orlando, Emiliano Boffelli and Jeronimo de la Fuente can hurt you on the counterattack.

There's also no tougher man in Super Rugby than flanker Pablo Matera.

Argentina's Jaguares centre Matias Orlando (bottom-R) scores a try past Australia's Brumbies centre Irae Simone (L) and full back Thomas Banks during their Super Rugby semifinal match at Jose Amalfitani stadium in Buenos Aires

Jaguares centre Matias Orlando scores a try past Australia's Brumbies centre Irae Simone (L) and full back Thomas Banks during their Super Rugby semifinal. Photo: AFP

So who wins this week?

We've become accustomed to seeing Hurricanes sides annihilated by the Crusaders in the set pieces. That didn't happen in the semifinal which, judging by all the kicking, even the Hurricanes had expected.

If the Crusaders were just playing within themselves, great. But if that's as good as their lineout and scrum are, then the Jaguares might make a contest of things on Saturday.

The Crusaders have only met the Jaguares twice before - in 2016 and 2018 - so aren't particularly familiar with what's about to confront them. You assume they'll have too much skill and pace, but the Jaguares are more abrasive and relentless than any team in the competition.

It's got them this far and there's no reason to think they'll suddenly become pushovers now.

The Crusaders will be hot favourites, but this game might be more of a match than people suspect.

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