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Crusaders still in with a chance for playoff spot

FRIDAY WRAP: The defending Super Rugby Pacific champion Crusaders remain in the playoffs race for another day after a 43-10, bonus-point win over Moana Pasifika.

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The seven-tries-to-one triumph was the Crusaders’ fourth of the season and lifted them into eighth place at the start of the final regular-season round. The top eight teams go on to next weekend’s quarterfinals.

But matches on Saturday between the Fijian Drua and Rebels and the Western Force and Brumbies could drop the Crusaders out of the eight and end their run of seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.

The fact the Crusaders are still in with a chance of making the playoffs is remarkable enough. They didn’t win a match until round six when they upset the Chiefs and their post-season bid only coalesced last weekend when they shocked the top-ranked Blues.

Friday’s victory gave them 24 points and put them three ahead of the Drua who face the Rebels in Lautoka, Fiji where they are unbeaten this season.

“It will be the first time I’ve been cheering for an Australian team,” Crusaders captain Codie Taylor said.

“It’s unique. Now we’ve done everything we can and we can only wait.

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“Finals footy, we love it and we want to be in it. The season that’s been hasn’t really set us up the way we wanted to but we’ve still got a chance.”

The Crusaders leaned heavily on their set piece, especially in the first half when three of their four tries came from lineout drives. Two of those went to Taylor who now has 44 in Super Rugby, the most by a tight forward.

After Taylor and Ethan Blackadder scored through forward power in the first half, veteran centre Ryan Crotty crossed just before halftime in what will be his last home match for the Crusaders and perhaps his last match if Saturday’s matches don’t favour them.

The hosts led 26-10 at halftime and tries after the break were scored by backs Noah Hotham, Dallas McLeod and Macca Springer.

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The match was definitely the last in Super Rugby for former Wallabies Sekope Kepu and Christian Leali’ifano who have ended their careers with Moana Pasifika. Leali’ifano has come to the end of a 16-year Super Rugby career, spent mostly with the Brumbies which now tallies 180 games.

Kepu made his Super Rugby debut in 2014 and won a title that year with the NSW Waratahs. He ends with more than 150 Super Rugby appearances.

*The Reds have declared themselves ready for Super Rugby Pacific finals action after condemning the Waratahs to one last deflating defeat with a thrilling 27-26 win over the wooden spooners in Sydney.

The Reds resisted a spirited second-half fightback from the Waratahs to hold on and secure the Bob Templeton Cup in the latest compelling edition of Australian rugby’s longest and fiercest interstate rivalry on Friday night.

Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt was in the stands at Allianz Stadium and might well have put a line through any Waratahs players he previously had in mind for the upcoming Test season had he left at halftime with the visitors leading 19-0.

The Waratahs’ depleted front-row stocks have been well documented this season, with even former Wallabies prop Paddy Ryan answering an SOS call from outgoing coach Darren Coleman to make a one-off cameo after returning from a stint in Japan.

But the NSW forwards couldn’t be blamed for the Reds running rings around the Waratahs backline in an embarrassing opening 40 minutes for the likes of departing stars Izaia Perese, who is off to the English Premiership, and the NRL-bound Mark Nawaqanitawase.

Tate McDermott’s softest of tries in the 18th minute typified the Tahs’ woeful season.

With the hosts caught napping like schoolboys after conceding a penalty in front of their sticks and expecting the Reds to take a shot at goal, McDermott opted for a quick tap instead and crossed for the easiest try of his career.

His 27th five-pointer also moved him past Samu Kerevi and Scott Higginbotham into third on Queensland’s all-time Super Rugby try-scorers list, behind only Chris Latham (41) and Ben Tune (31).

McDermott’s effort followed by early tries from classy centre Josh Flook and lock Seru Uru earned the Reds their 19-point lead at the break.

But one last halftime spray from Coleman fired the home side up for a second-half revival.

Not even the Reds’ fourth try in the 49th minute to Hunter Paisami could stop the Waratahs from surging to a 26-24 lead with replies from winger Dyland Pietsch, impressive five-eighth Jack Bowen and forwards Jed Holloway and Jay Fonokalafi.

All Friday’s scores and scorers:

Crusaders 43-10 Moana Pasifika

For Crusaders:
Tries: Blackadder, Taylor 2, Crotty, Hotham, McLeod, Springer
Cons: Burke 4

For Moana Pasifika:
Tries: F. Inisi
Cons: Havili
Pens: Havili

Teams

Crusaders: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Chay Fihaki, 13 Dallas McLeod, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Macca Springer, 10 Fergus Burke, 9 Noah Hotham, 8 Christian Lio-Willie, 7 Ethan Blackadder, 6 Cullen Grace, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Antonio Shalfoon, 3 Tamaiti Williams, 2 Codie Taylor (captain), 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 George Bell, 17 George Bower, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jamie Hannah, 20 Tom Christie, 21 Mitch Drummond, 22 Taine Robinson, 23 Heremaia Murray.

Moana Pasifika: 15 Kyren Taumoefolau, 14 Fine Inisi, 13 Henry Taefu, 12 Julian Savea, 11 Pepesana Patafilo, 10 William Havili, 9 Jonathan Taumateine, 8 Lotu Inisi, 7 Sione Havili Talitui (captain), 6 Jacob Norris, 5 Allan Craig, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Samiuela Moli, 1 Abraham Pole.
Replacements: 16 Tomasi Maka, 17 Ivan Fepuleai, 18 Suetena Asomua, 19 Ola Tauelangi, 20 Alamanda Motuga, 21 Aisea Halo, 22 Christian Lealiifano, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.

Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Matt Kellahan, Jeremy Markey
TMO: Brett Cronan

Waratahs 26-27 Reds

For Reds:
Tries: Uru, McDermott, Flook, Paisami
Cons: Creighton 2
Pens: Lynagh

For Waratahs:
Tries: Holloway, Fonokalafi, Bowen, Pietsch
Cons: Bowen 3

Teams

Waratahs: 15 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 14 Triston Reilly, 13 Joey Walton, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Dylan Pietsch, 10 Jack Bowen, 9 Jake Gordon (captain), 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Charlie Gamble, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Miles Amatosero, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Tom Ross, 2 Jay Fonokalafi, 1 Paddy Ryan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Sugars, 17 Lewis Ponini, 18 Brad Amituanai, 19 Hugh Sinclair, 20 Fergus Lee-Warner, 21 Jack Grant, 22 Tane Edmed, 23 Izaia Perese.

Reds: 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Tim Ryan, 13 Josh Flook, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Mac Grealy, 10 Lawson Creighton, 9 Tate McDermott (co-captain), 8 Joe Brial, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright (co-captain), 5 Seru Uru, 4 Connor Vest, 3 Zane Nonggor, 2 Matt Faessler, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Josh Nasser, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, 19 Ryan Smith, 20 John Bryant, 21 Kalani Thomas, 22 Tom Lynagh, 23 Taj Annan.

Referee: James Doleman
Assistant referees: Jono Bredin, Fraser Hannon
TMO: Chris Hart

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