The Crusaders scored four unanswered tries in the second half to outclass the Sharks 38-6 and book their place in the Super Rugby final.
Captain Kieran Read scored the only try of the first half and Nemani Nadolo, Willi Heinz, Jimmy McNicholl and Matt Todd touched down in the second to carry the Crusaders past the Sharks.
Dan Carter kicked two conversions and three penalties for 13 points while flyhalf Patrick Lambie provided the Sharks’ only points with two penalties.
The Crusaders will play either the New South Wales Waratahs or ACT Brumbies in the final, with the two Australian teams to play later Saturday.
The match exposed a disparity in skill and ambition between the Crusaders, who attacked continuously and well, and the Sharks who tried but failed to control the game through their heavy forward pack.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders have made the semifinals in each of the past 13 years, the final 11 times – most recently in 2011 – but haven’t claimed the Super Rugby crown since 2008.
Their momentum has grown steadily as the season has progressed and Saturday’s was one of their most emphatic performances, as they nullified all the strengths of the Sharks. They led 16-6 at halftime and scored 22 unanswered points in the second spell.
The Crusaders answered the threat of the Sharks at set pieces, holding their scrum and disrupting their lineout, then stretched their defense by switching the ball from flank to flank at pace.
The Durban-based Sharks kicked aimlessly out of defense, allowing the Crusaders to assemble constant waves of attack on the kick return, and that was compounded by regularly missing touch from penalties and failing to secure kickoffs.
The Sharks’ defense held reasonably well until halftime then creaked and finally collapsed under the steady weight of Crusaders’ attack in the second spell.
“I’m extremely satisfied,” Read said. “Knowing that we’re going to the big stage next weekend is an awesome feeling and I’m really pleased about the performance out there tonight.
“We started really well and we were able to put a bit of pressure on them early. We played a pretty high tempo early that set the scene and sometimes when you travel it’s hard to adjust and we actually caught them early.”
Read helped to turn the Crusaders’ overwhelming early surplus of possession into points with his try in the 17th minute. After a failed clearing kick from the Sharks, the Crusaders backrow of Todd, Richie McCaw and Read all handled before Read stepped the last defender to score.
The second half turned into one-way traffic.
Scrumhalf Andy Ellis caught the defense napping from a penalty in the 49th minute and combined with Carter and Colin Slade to create a try for Nadolo – his 11th of the season.
Heinz pounced on a ball which squirted from a defensive scrum in the 65th minute and McNicholl scored after Slade returned another poor kick and combined with Dagg to make a try for the replacement winger.
Flanker Todd added the final try two minutes from full-time to complete a comfortable win, though Carter missed four of nine shots.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis said. “Everything we worked on during the last two weeks ... we couldn’t field the high balls, couldn’t play in the right areas.” – Sapa-AP