Western Force stalwart Nathan Sharpe’s Super Rugby farewell turned into a first-half nightmare as the Crusaders cruised to a 38-24 triumph in Christchurch on Saturday night.
The Crusaders had the four-try bonus point in the bag by halftime, opening up a 32-3 lead at the break in a dominant display of running rugby and scrum supremacy.
However, two of those tries were highly dubious, with TMO referee Vinny Munro awarding fullback Israel Dagg and halfback Andy Ellis tries despite evidence to the contrary.
Dagg clearly lost control of the ball as he touched down in the corner after 42 seconds, while Ellis made a double movement when he barged over in the 34th minute.
Winger Sean Maitland and flanker Matt Todd crossed in fairer fashion to put their side in a dominant position by halftime.
But the Force gained some respectability in the second half courtesy of tries through 19-year-old five-eighth Kyle Godwin, fullback Alfie Mafi and reserve scrumhalf Josh Holmes.
The win secured the Crusaders fourth spot and a home quarter-final, while in contrast the injury-hit Force finished their campaign with a dismal 3-13 win-loss record.
Season 2012 will be remembered as a disastrous one for the Force, who lost coach Richard Graham midway through their campaign after he defected to Queensland.
But the Force hope a new era will begin when they announce their new coach early next week, with Heineken Cup-winning coach Michael Cheika expected to get the nod.
Sharpe, making his competition-record 162nd and last Super appearance, was at his dominant best at the line-out in the first half.
But the Force were beaten in every other aspect, with the Crusaders’ dominant counter-rucking and explosive midfield running setting up numerous tries in the first period.
The Crusaders botched three great opportunities in an error-riddled second half, but the damage had already been done as the Force finally found their groove late in the match.