Blues still in the hunt but Crusaders remain on top   18 Apr 2006

There is very little to stop the Crusaders and Waratahs getting through to the semis and although it seems likely they will be joined by the Brumbies and the Hurricanes, three teams are still in with a chance – the Bulls, the Chiefs and, surprisingly, the Blues. ELLIE VAN BAAREN takes a look at round 10.

Who is going to stop the Crusaders? The Cheetahs knew they had their work cut out for them when they took on the Crusaders at Christchurch, but it must have hurt to end the evening with the title of the Crusaders’ most comprehensive victory so far this year.

The 53-17 trashing came just a week after a similar loss against No 2 on the table, the Waratahs. The Crusaders were already ahead 32-10 at half time so coach Robbie Deans had no problems with resting captain Richie McCaw and fellow All Black Chris Jack for most of the second spell.

And who wouldn’t when you have the services of the freakishly reliable Daniel Carter. The wunderkind continued his domination of the first five position with a personal haul of 28 points that included two tries, six conversions and two penalties.

The Cheetahs had no excuses, and coach Rassie Erasmus said he doubted any other team would be able to topple the Crusaders at home, pointing to the Brumbies as the likeliest to do so, despite the fact the Canberra team lost to the Waratahs on Sunday.

The match of the round – Waratahs v Brumbies – lived up to its name, providing a brutal clash in what had been dubbed the Australian test trial. The 37-14 scoreline was not entirely representative of the Brumbies’ effort, however they’ll need to be more cohesive if they’re to topple the Crusaders in round 14.

Next week the Crusaders travel to Perth to take on the Western Force who will no doubt be shaking in their collective boots. Considering the newcomers have yet to win a match and turned in an appalling performance this week against the Blues, they’re staring at a pontentially painful encounter with the defending champions.

Having said that it wasn’t all the Force players’ fault that their team lost 39-8 at the weekend, as the Blues turned in their most complete performance yet. Those playoff ambitions are not looking quite so laughable as the Auckland team now has more wins than losses on its register.

North Harbour’s Rua Tipoki ended the match a hero after his hat-trick only to turn villain when he was suspended for 16 weeks after striking Force’s James Hilgendorf (see below). But the bad news for the Blues is they may also lose Troy Flavell on the eve of their South African tour after he went off gripping his shoulder (see right).

The Blues are facing three games in South Africa against the Sharks, Cheetahs and Cats. They’ve already played the most dangerous of the sides, the Bulls, however the Cheetahs could prove quite a handful on their home soil.

Of course you also musn’t forget that as it gets closer to the last round the competition within a competition also goes down to the wire, with each of the South African sides fighting for their survival. At the moment the Cats and the Stormers are staring down the barrel, not a great place to be.

The Hurricanes moved back into third, behind the Waratahs on four and against points and since the NSW team have a bye this week, they have the chance to take outright second position if they beat the Brumbies in Brisbane – not an easy task.

The clash will be the real test of whether the team is what is pulling them through or just moments of individual brilliance. They will need all players to be firing if they’re to come out on top.

The Highlanders’ loss to the Hurricanes effectively ends their playoff chances since they have a bye this week, but the Chiefs are just hanging in there after an ugly but effective win against the Stormers. They’re sitting in a logjam with the Blues and Bulls on 22 points and will need to win all of their remaining matches to be in with a chance.

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