By PHIL GIFFORD, Sunday Star Times
Sunday, 25 May 2008
The Super 14 semifinal between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes answered a lot of key questions.
Could the Crusaders pull off one of the most difficult feats in rugby, and switch form from the mediocrity of recent weeks to the top bracket?
Apart from the horror moment when Zac Guildford charged down a Daniel Carter kick, the match was dominated by one team, and it didn't come from Wellington.
At the front of the charge was Richie McCaw, so dynamic you suspect he may have changed not in the shed, but in a telephone box.
Is Daniel Carter back to his world beating best?
It's starting to look like it.
Much of his display last night was to be expected. It's hardly a news flash that he would pass beautifully, run well, and never miss a tackle. What was not so expected were some unusual touches, like the steal of a ball from Ma'a Nonu in a tackle, which was an example, often mentioned by his teammates, of how strong Carter is.
The only weird thing was his disconcerting habit of trying to kick the ball flat across the field to his wing.
Would the Hurricanes stay controlled?
Their discipline was very good as far as giving away penalties went, but in the first half especially the lack of control at kickoffs was crucial.
Jerry Collins or Kieran Read?
Read's night by a long way.
We know how good Collins is, but right now he has a young man breathing so close to the back of his neck it must feel like a hair dryer.
Could Ma'a Nonu use the big occasion to push his All Blacks chances?
No. But not through any fault of his own.
When attack is the strongest feature of your game it's desperately hard to impress when you never see the ball. By the time he did there was a hint of panic in the Canes' approach.
How would the scrum contest go?
As tight as it gets.
For every scrum the Crusaders powered to the side of the field they wanted there was a power hit from the Canes that rattled the red and blacks.
Would a bet on Andrew Hore to score a try be as worthwhile as it has been all season?
Hore is lethal close to the line. The Canes got near the line about as often as watching parliament makes you feel proud to be a Kiwi.
Who would push hardest for national selection?
He must have been in the squad anyway, but Leon MacDonald's form was incandescent. His second try - where he was too strong for two locks near the line - bordered on the surreal.
Would referee Stu Dickinson demonstrate that he's finally learned it's not all about him?
Of course not.
Did it seem weird that it wasn't possible to fill a gutted stadium?
The game was everything the occasion demanded. The commitment from both sides was extraordinary. You saw it in the way a younger player like Jeremy Thrush smashed into his tackles, or how every time Jerry Collins ran with the ball a posse of Crusaders arrived at the gallop.
Do we now have a good idea who will win the final?
If it's not the Crusaders it'll be astounding. How much do you reckon the guy who bet $100,000 on the Crusaders to beat the Highlanders wishes he'd waited another week?
* Phil Gifford's rugby show Front Row
on Radio Sport
every Saturday from 8-10am.
Brad Thorn, left, celebrates a try in the Super 14 semifinal between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes that answered a lot of key questions