The Crusaders & Bulls were punished for poor game management, writes new HoR2 contributor Manus McMichael
I suppose we've all seen it before. The main playmakers of a fantastic team with a glorious record boasting hundreds of caps, falter at the decision making side of a huge game. This weekends Super Rugby semi-finals were a glaring example of players failing to make the correct red-zone calls and being punished with extreme prejudice by their opponents.
As Morne Steyn turned down his opportunities to kick for goal and then backtracked on this decision with a failed drop kick, Dan Carter probably watched with his head in his hands, as it was somewhat similar for him in the corresponding fixture. In the first Semi-final, The Crusaders had the bit between their teeth, marching up the field for a crucial lineout in Chiefs territory. Any form of score would do - but the decision to have a drop at goal off the first phase of clean lineout ball has got to be criticised for its downright hastiness. Carter (arguably the best outhalf of his generation and many to come) did not realise right away that this had been a blunder of epic proportions, after all the Crusaders would get the ball back from the restart and could have another pop. Wrong.
The Chiefs punished the Crusaders for this mistake, as you must at the top level, as the Christchurch side should have to their Hamilton based opponents when Cruden kicked his restart out on the full and missed his shot at goal.
The Brumbies have already come out and said that the Bulls decisions helped them stay in, and ultimately, win the second Semi-final. Steyn turned down two run-of-the-mill shots that would have stretched the South African's lead and in all likelihood strangled the Australian Conference winners, restricting them to hoping for a try and eliminating the threat of Leali'ifano's boot in the middle of the park, which would have been a lot easier to defend. But, alas, it was not to be as the Brumbies scored a cracking try at the death.
If last Friday you were to pick two teams to make those painfully obvious mistakes out of the semi-finals, such experienced teams as the Crusaders and the Bulls would probably be your last choice, especially them both together. It's not often we see Steyn, Carter, Potgeiter and Read come up short in any department, and in fairness to the two captains, Potgeiter has accepted the burden of the criticism and Read was visibly disgusted with himself in the post-match interview.
As much as games come down to skill, preparation and executing a gameplan, it is hard to prepare for situations where the correct decision needs to be made within a split second or everyone goes home. The best players in the world fall short at this hurdle when the crunch is on very often. It's to do with a mindset that players need to be engrossed in, for example Craig Clarke for the Chiefs, who was wonderfully underhand in some of his play but he could not be faulted by anyone. It is these moments at the top level that win and lose championships, make heroes and villains of honest players.
Any campaign in professional rugby will only have one or two teams with this engrained in them, if even that. It is easily lost - as the beaten semi-finalists can attest to and it is very hard to gain. We'll only see about 10 great teams in our life time, such is the way. The Brumbies were so criminally let off I believe they have already taken a step above their station. One of those great teams though is the 2012/2013 Chiefs, and it is fully expected that they will beat their opponents in the final comfortably in the Waikato.
Manus McMichael (@The_Dange) : One-time Irish exile living on the border.