The ruthless Crusaders lived up to their pre-match hype as they made the spirited Lions pay for not using their ample opportunities, winning the Super Rugby final 37-18 in Christchurch on Saturday.
It was Swys de Bruin’s troops’ third straight loss in the showpiece game while the Crusaders secured back-to-back titles and a record ninth overall.
The Lions dominated territory, but the Crusaders suffocating defence nullified the threat the Lions posed with their famous rolling maul early and disrupted any sort of momentum in general.
Despite a 67th minute yellow card to centre Ryan Crotty for cynical defending from a maul, the Crusaders were ruthless when they were given the slightest chance.
The Lions never stopped fighting and two passages of play that featured brute strength from Cyle Brink and Malcolm Marx saw them at least become the first South African team since the Sharks in 1996 to score tries in a Super Rugby final overseas.
Who was the star in this match?
Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga showed why he is pushing for a place in the All Black starting lineup with another sterling performance. He set up the Crusaders second try by fullback David Havili by fielding a poor Elton Jantjies kick and set off on a magic run. In general play, he gave direction to the attacking mindset while his place-kicking again was superb.
Key moments and themes
- The Lions started brightly but also laid down the marker for their wastefulness after wing Ruan Combrinck had a golden opportunity to score in the fourth minute. He made an incisive break in the Crusaders midfield, but with his support runners were too slow to back him up he was hauled in five meters from the tryline. That was a huge moment.
- Another vital passage occurred close to half-time. Firstly, Elton Jantjies indirectly conceded a penalty goal when an error in judgment saw him carry over possession when he thought the law was on his side and would award him a 22m dropout. Moments later, an aimless up-and-under was gleefully snapped up by his counterpart Mo’unga to set up Havili’s try.
- As much as the Crusaders bossed the Lions in terms of how to make use of limited opportunities, the refereeing of Angus Gardner left much to be desired. He confirmed De Bruin’s suspicion that the champions get away with indiscretions, especially in terms of their offside line. Also, neither him or the TMO even remotely seemed interested in investigating Havili’s kick on the tryline when Jantjies try to place the ball for a try after his effective dart. Law 21:11 states: “If a tackled player is in the act of reaching out to ground the ball for a try or touch down, players may pull the ball from the player’s possession but must not kick or attempt to kick the ball.” A penalty try could’ve changed the complexion of the game completely.
- When Crotty was binned, the Lions immediately made it count with Marx’s score but the Crusaders landed a huge sucker punch. From a quick throw-in, they exploited the Lions’ poor defence in broken play to score the clincher.
Crusaders – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, David Havili, Mitchell Drummond, Scott Barrett. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (4). Penalties: Mo’unga (3).
Lions – Tries: Cyle Brink, Malcolm Marx. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (2).