Explosive starts put Crusaders, Sharks in semis

The Super 15 final is destined to be a New Zealand-South Africa showdown after the Canterbury Crusaders and Coastal Sharks steam-rolled their way into the semi-finals at the weekend.

A clinical performance by the perennial favourite Crusaders put paid to the Northern Bulls 28-13 and set them up for a New Zealand derby semi-final next Friday against the Waikato Chiefs.

The Sharks disposed of defending champions Queensland Reds 30-17 in Brisbane to end Australia's presence in the competition and establish an all-South Africa semi-final against the table-topping Western Stormers on Saturday.

Both the Crusaders and Sharks established their superiority with explosive starts -- the Crusaders racing to a 16-0 lead before the Bulls were on the board and the Sharks were up 17-0 before the Reds scored.

The start was crucial, Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw said of the grudge match against the Bulls with the red-and-blacks making a clear statement early that they would not be beaten.

There is little love between the two most successful Super rugby sides, with the Crusaders still smarting over unfounded eye-gouging allegations levelled against them when the two teams last met earlier this year.

They also wanted payback for the last three times they have met in play-off matches, all played in South Africa and all won by the Bulls.

Such was the intensity of the Crusaders start that the Bulls were forced to make 74 tackles in the first half to the Crusaders' 24.

"In the first 40 minutes we played at the right end of the field. We didn't give them any momentum. We limited our mistakes and our discipline was good and because of that we applied pressure," McCaw said.

As the Bulls struggled to defend their line the Crusaders cashed in on the high penalty count that went their way, with Dan Carter slotting the goals to finish with 23 of the Crusaders' 28 points.

He also set up the Crusaders' lone try when he sucked Morne Steyn into moving off his line opening a gap for Zac Guildford to race through to the tryline.

The defeat was not the only bad news for the bulls with winger Bjorn Basson admitted to hospital for surgery on an intestinal tear suffered in the match.

Basson will be in hospital for at least five days and will have to stay in New Zealand for five days after being discharged before he will be able to undertake the long-haul flight back to South Africa.

In Brisbane, the Sharks repelled everything the Reds threw at them to win comfortably despite having only 31 per cent of the possession.

Sharks captain Keegan Daniel praised his side's defensive effort as making the difference.

"That's what wins games and the boys put their bodies on the line," he said.

"It was very physical and hats off to both sides, there were some big hits in that game."

The Reds' cause wasn't helped when they lost flyhalf Ben Lucas to injury after 20 minutes.

Will Genia moved to the number 10 position and put Scott Higginbotham in for a try just before half-time and a Reds revival seemed possible.

However, he went from hero to villain soon after the break when he fired a flat cut-out pass that was intercepted by Sharks scrumhalf Charl McLeod, who raced 70 metres to score.

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