The Crusaders secured a place in the Super 14 semi-finals with a convincing 40-22 victory over fellow play-off hopefuls the Brumbies in Christchurch on Friday evening.
The match was effectively a quarter-final with both sides assured of a spot in the finals at the expense of the other if they posted a win.
The Crusaders did not disappoint their home fans, running in five tries to three to move temporarily into second spot, with the Waratahs and Hurricanes as well as the Stormers and Bulls still to play.
It is ninth consecutive semi-finals appearance for the Crusadars while the Brumbies miss out by the narrowest of margins for the sixth straight year since winning the competition in 2004.
The loss was compounded by a fractured jaw to Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore who is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks of the Wallabies’ international season.
The hosts started brightly with Sean Maitland scoring a classic running, team try after 12 minutes but the Brumbies hit back against the flow with a 50-metre intercept effort by Tyrone Smith.
The Crusaders took control of the contest and went into half-time with a 22-10 lead thanks to another two brilliant tries in the space of three minutes finished off by Keiran Read and Owen Franks.
The visitors started the second half superbly with prop Ben Alexander crossing for his seventh try of the season to keep his side in the contest.
But the Crusaders again responded with two tries to skipper Richie McCaw and the outstanding Zac Guildford to seal the result.
Huia Edmonds crashed over late to grab a consolation try for the Brumbies.
Brumbies captain Stephen Hoiles said costly turnovers, including one that led to Read’s try from a break and kick-ahead by Guildford, proved costly in the end.
“They are a very good side at putting you under pressure and then making you pay for the mistake,” he said post-match.
“They get a quick turnover and before you know it they are under the posts.
“We probably let them get too many points early.”
After finishing on 38 points last year, the Brumbies ended this campaign with the same win-loss record of 8-5 on 37.
“It just goes to show how hard the competition is to make the semi-finals, you have to win 75 per cent of your games,” Hoiles said.
“We just needed that one more game and leaving it until the last game was always going to be tough over here.”
Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw said his side is starting to click at the right time of the year in an effort to deliver 80-minute performances.
“We’ve had teams in trouble over the season and we have let them off the hook with our own mistakes,” he said.
“So we were keen to make sure that didn’t happen. I thought it was a pretty good performance across the whole game.”
The match was a disappointing end to the outstanding Super rugby career of Brumbies veteran George Smith.
“He has been without a doubt the best player I’ve been on the football field with,” Hoiles said.
“He has been a legend of the Brumbies and someone we will dearly miss.”
McCaw, who has had numerous battles with Smith at both Super and international level, also paid tribute to his fearless opposite number.
“He has been a menace to play against over the last 10 years, a true champion and a hell of a nice guy off the field,” he said.
“He is going to be missed, I’m going to miss having a good challenge against him.”
Crusaders: 40 (S Maitland, K Read, O Franks, R McCaw, Z Guildford tries; D 3 conversions, 3 penalties)
Brumbies: 22 (T Smith, B Alexander, H Edmonds tries; M Giteau 2 conversions, penalty)