Crusaders' Super Rugby victory fails to hit the heights worthy of a great final

Alex Broun 4/08/2018
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The Crusaders enthusiasm was not matched by their fans.

As a rugby lover it would be great to write a match report about a thrilling Super Rugby final, played between two evenly matched teams with sweeping backline moves, courageous defence and powerful forward play.

It would be great – but sadly that wasn’t the case.

This game resembled a great contest as much as sawdust resembles snow.

It’s difficult to remember a more one-sided final.

From the moment the Lions came up with nothing after bombarding the Crusaders line for the first eight minutes, the writing was on the wall.

And when Seta Tamanivalu crossed for the Crusaders’ opening try from their first attacking opportunity the match was as good as over.

The rest was just a dull procession, enlivened by some attacking brilliance in the second half, as we waited for Sam Whitelock to lift the Super Rugby trophy above his head – the ninth time a Crusaders captain has done that in just 23 years.

In terms of entertainment value this was like a giant python slowly strangling a small dog over an hour and a half.

You know what’s going to happen and its tedious and painful to watch.

The Lions’ attacks were about as pointless as shooting paintballs against a brick wall – and not colourful paintballs either. Grey, beige and black.

When the Lions did occasionally threaten, the Crusaders repelled their advances comfortably.

Nothing was more telling than the Lions’ attacking scrum five metres out from the Crusaders line early in the second half.

It was the visitors’ last chance to even hint at making the match competitive.

But on cue the Crusaders turned on the power and the Lions’ scrum imploded.

There was a brief flurry as Lions flanker Cyle Brink powered his way over in the 53rd minute but despite having 62 per cent of the possession and 70 per cent of the territory – the Lions were never really in it.

As sporting contests go it was one of the most one-sided finals you could witness.

A testament to the excellence of this Crusaders team, and just how high they set their standards, was that despite the match being comfortably won in the final minutes the champions defended with more venom than they had in the entire match, repelling the Lions’ vain attacking attempts with some ferocious hits.

Nothing in the end could have been more appropriate than hardworking Crusaders flanker Matt Todd turning the ball over on his own line and booting it into touch for the final act of the match.

Unfortunately the only real jubilation on the final whistle came from the players on the field.

The occasion of the final was wasted on a Christchurch crowd so weary of success that Crusaders coach Scott Robertson had to walk out onto the pitch before the match and try to rouse them to show some interest.

The AMI Stadium in Christchurch only seats 18,000 but so apathetic were fans that there were fears the venue would not be full, even for the tournament showpiece.

Even Scott Robertson's break dancing couldn't get the crowd excited.

Even Scott Robertson’s break dancing couldn’t get the crowd excited.

In the end the ground was full but so blasé were the Crusaders’ supporters about the victory that most of them had departed before victorious captain Sam Whitelock had even raised the Super Rugby trophy above his head, and well before Robertson had completed his celebratory break dance.

It is one of Super Rugby’s big problems that the nation that so dominates the tournament has fans who are so reluctant to attend a match.

There were very few sell-outs during the season with great swathes of empty seats in Auckland and Wellington, which hardly makes for good television pictures.

At Eden Park it’s understandable that crowds aren’t coming out to support the underperforming Blues but the Hurricanes in Wellington were champions as recently as 2016 and play some of the most entertaining rugby on the planet.

But for a nation spoiled by success, who have won 16 of the 23 Super Rugby titles on offer, plus the last two Rugby World Cups and 15 Bledisloe Cups in succession, even a final victory isn’t enough to raise much more than a polite nod.

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Super Rugby final as it happened - Crusaders cruise to ninth title over Lions

Alex Broun 4/08/2018
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Crusaders celebrate another Super Rugby title.

The Crusaders barely broke a sweat as they cruised to an easy 37-18 win over the Lions in the Super Rugby final in Christchurch on Saturday.

The hosts crossed for four tries, one each to Seta Tamanivalu, David Havili, Mitchell Drummond and Scott Barrett while fly-half Richie Mo’unga was faultless with boot landing four conversions and three penalties.

In reply the Lions mustered tries through flanker Cyle Brink and hooker Malcolm Marx, while Elton Jantjies landed one conversion and two penalties.

Here are the big moments from the match:

5 minutes: Lions dominate possession and territory for first five minutes. Ruan Combrinck is stopped just short but the Crusaders hold on. Crucial opening chance missed by the visitors. 0-0

13 minutes: Having completely dominated up until this point, the Lions come up with just a penalty from Jantjies. Lions 0-3

16 minutes: The Crusaders finally get into Lions territory and are on the board within a minute through a penalty to Mo’unga. 3-3

Seta Tamanivalu goes over for the Crusaders opening try.

Seta Tamanivalu goes over for the Crusaders opening try.

20 minutes: Seta Tamanivalu dives over in the corner and Mo’unga coverts from the sideline. Already feels like game over. Crusaders 10-3

30 minutes: A long kick from Mo’unga and Jantjies mistakenly grounds it in-goal, giving the Crusaders a five-metre scrum. A penalty from the scrum which Mo’unga converts. 13-3

34 minutes: Poor kick from Jantjies, gathered by Mo’unga who puts Jack Goodhue into a gap. From the ensuing ruck Havili goes over. Mo’unga converts. Easy. 20-3

39 minutes: Lions on the attack close to the Crusaders’ line but they are going nowhere. Jantjies concedes defeat and takes the three points. 20-6

42 minutes: The Crusaders on the attack and they win a breakdown penalty. Mo’unga lands it. 23-6

Cyle Brink gets the Lions back into it briefly.

Cyle Brink gets the Lions back into it briefly.

53 minutes: Brute power from Brink as he overpowers Matt Todd and finally the Crusaders defence is breached. Jantjies converts. 23-13

62 minutes: Sparkling attack from the Crusaders. Matt Todd makes a half break, and flicks the ball inside to Codie Taylor who finds replacement scrum-half Drummond in support. Superb try. Mo’unga converts. 30-13

65 minutes: Crusaders camped in their own territory and a cynical indiscretion sees Ryan Crotty sent to the sin-bin.

67 minutes: Marx, who has been well-contained, finally finds a little space near the line and bursts through two tackles to score. Jantjies misses the conversion. 30-18

70 minutes: Scorching break from George Bridge and the move is finished off by Scott Barrett who barges over under the posts. Mo’unga converts. 37-18

Scott Barrett wraps it up for the Crusaders.

Scott Barrett wraps it up for the Crusaders.

80 minutes: The Lions pound away at the Crusaders’ line, desperate for the final word, but the hosts repel them like it is the first minute, not the last. Fittingly Todd rips the ball away at the breakdown and boots it into touch. Crusaders claim their ninth Super Rugby crown – and second in succession.

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Lions to be put to the slaughter by invincible Crusaders in Super Rugby final

Alex Broun 3/08/2018
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Sam Whitelock of the Crusaders and Warren Whiteley of the Lions - the winning captain is on the left

Spare a thought for the Lions.

To paraphrase the old saying – they go as lions to the slaughter on to AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.

Peering at them from the other side of the halfway line will be the reigning champions, the winningest team in the Super Rugby’s history, the Crusaders.

And as winning records go, the Crusaders make even the All Blacks look second rate.

With eight titles under their belt, they have won a staggering 33 out of their last 36 matches – a winning ratio of 92 per cent.

Including this year, in total the Crusaders have played in more than half the Super Rugby finals ever played – 13 out of 23.

Last season, they lost just one match the entire campaign. This year, they lost two, in a row, a very rare stumble from this peerless side.

In stark comparison, the Lions have lost seven matches this year alone.

But anyone’s record pales in comparison to the Crusaders. They are currently on a 14-match winning streak, which is two shy of their record of 16.

The Crusaders record against the Lions is just as commanding.

The Red and Blacks have won nine of their last 10 games against the Lions. However, each of their last three wins against them has come by a margin of no greater than eight points.

Where the Crusaders have experience in winning finals, the Lions have experience in losing them.

To date, the Johannesburg team have never won Super Rugby. Saturday marks their third-straight final – and in all probability their third-straight loss.

Last year, they lost to the Crusaders 25-17 in Johannesburg. This time in Christchurch, it should be by considerably more.

It’s not that the Lions are a bad side, three finals in a row attributes to that. It’s just that the Saders are that good.

So what is the secrets to their success?

For me, there are three. Firstly, team ethic.

The Crusaders work as a unit, in everything they do – whether its attack, defence, set pieces or even broken play.

They boast a 97-per-cent ruck success rate, 85 per cent lineout success and 93 per cent in scrums and they scored the second most points in the tournament 542 (just 15 behind NSW).

But it is their defence that really stands out. They conceded the least points in the tournament, just 295 (nearly 50 points better than the next team, the Hurricanes with 343).

They were second highest on the tackle success rate with 85 per cent and had the lowest missed tackle percentage – 20.2 per cent.

In the semi-final, flanker Matt Todd alone made 21 tackles. The most of any player in the semi-finals.

He has now made 179 tackles for the season, which is the most of any Crusaders player.

But like all the Crusaders, Todd goes about his work silently and without a lot of fuss.

He carries out his role in the team – efficiently and effectively.

When one Crusader scores a try, they all score a try. When one makes a tackle, they all make a tackle.

Winger George Bridge, who has scored 15 tries this season, does not standout more than the rest of his team-mates.

And very few, if any, of his tries have been solo efforts. He just finishes off the hard work done by the rest of the team.

Bridge’s job is also made easier by reason number two – the supremacy of the Crusaders’ forwards.

The Saders pack is stacked with All Blacks – seven of the eight – and with a Wallaby, Pete Samu on the bench.

At every facet they are superb – scrums, lineouts, mauls, rucks. They attack everything as a unit and are very rarely breached or driven backwards.

Technically, they are near perfect. Their skill levels are exemplary and their work ethic is unwavering.

They have probably the best prop (Joe Moody), lock (Sam Whitelock) and loose forward (Kieran Read) in the world.

The key to the All Blacks success is winning the battle upfront first, before they unleash their devastating backline.

It is no coincidence players like fly-half Richie Mo’unga, scrum-half Bryn Hall, centres Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue, winger Bridge and full-back David Havili excel behind such a powerful pack.

Thirdly, credit must go to a former Crusaders flanker, and now head coach, Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson, who in his second year in charge looks set for his second title.

The Crusaders had all the same elements, as well as superstars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, and failed to win a title for eight long years under previous coach Todd Blackadder.

It took the former All Black Robertson to find that missing ingredient to return the Crusaders to their invincible best.

He, more than anyone, will deserve his victory breakdance after the full time whistle.

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