Peerless Crusaders claim ninth Super Rugby title
FOR the second straight year the Crusaders have defeated the Lions in the grand final, claiming their ninth Super Rugby title with an impressive 37-18 win at AMI Park in Christchurch.
A year after travelling to Johannesburg to become the first team to cross the Indian Ocean and take the title, the Crusaders ran in four tries to the Lions' two to seal a comprehensive victory, and their first at home since Robbie Deans' side defeated the Waratahs in 2008.
The victory was the Crusaders 21st straight finals win in Christchurch.
It was also the Lions' third straight final loss after previously going down to the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2016 and the Crusaders at Ellis Park last year.
Once again, Test fly half Elton Jantjies continued his theme of struggling on the biggest stage.
Conversely, Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo'unga was once again the star of the show for the home side and claimed man of the match honours.
A week after outplaying back to back world player of the year, Beauden Barrett, Mo'unga scored 17 points from the kicking tee and played a prominent role in three of the Crusaders' tries.
The victory was the perfect sendoff for Wallaby Peter Samu, who will join the Brumbies in 2019.
In winning, Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock paid tribute to his coach, Scott Robertson, who became the first person to win back to back titles as a coach (2017-2018) and a player (1998-2000).
"Razor really pulled back the training and the boys freshened up," Whitelock said.
"We knew that we just had to come down here in front of our family and friends.
"It's amazing when the fans come out.
"Thanks to the Lions. You guys were absolutely outstanding.
"Three years in a row in the final, well deserved."
Lions captain Warren Whiteley said his team could be prove of their effort despite coming up short again, but praised the Crusaders' incredible defence.
"Obviously gutted," Whiteley said.
"A bit emotional, to be honest.
"But just immensely proud of each and every individual.
"We gave it everything out there.
"Credit must go to the Crusaders.To Sam and his team they were unbelievable. Everything that we threw at them they stopped.
"We tried everything. Threw the kitchen sink at them and they deserved this win."
You had the feeling it was going to be a night of disappointment for the Lions early on.
The visitors had a golden opportunity to score in the sixth minute after Ruan Combrinck made a break out wide, before being tackled just metres short of the line.
Rather than going to the openside, the Lions chose to play the blind and the decision backfired as the Crusaders rallied and defended their own line before forcing an error.
The lost opportunity was the story of the night for the Lions.
They did, however, post the first points as Jantjies slotted a penalty from close range in the 13th minute.
But Mo'unga's penalty three minutes later saw the home side draw level.
It was largely one way traffic from then on, as Mo'unga took control and enhanced his reputation as the in form fly half in New Zealand.
His first moment of class occurred in the 20th minute as he delayed a pass on the fringes before cutting out two defenders and finding departing All Black Seta Tamanivalu on the wing, who showed too much strength to score out wide.
Disaster struck 10 minutes later though as Jantjies grounded a ball on his own goal line believing Mo'unga's sweeping kick had touched the white chalk.
A minute later, Mo'unga had his second penalty and the Crusaders' lead extended to 13-3 as the Lions' scrum was penalised.
That lead quickly exploded out to 20-3, as Mo'unga leapt high to take a Jantjies bomb and broke through the middle, before finding Jack Goodhue with a pinpoint pass on his right and the centre was cut down from behind just metres out.
Smelling blood, the Crusaders quickly spread the ball to the fringes and fullback David Havili crossed the line easily.
Frustrated by the Crusaders' dogged defence and excellent lineout defence, the Lions then turned down a chance to go for a try and instead Whiteley pointed to the posts as Jantjies narrowed the deficit to 20-6.
Needing to score first in the second half, the Lions' chances of pulling off an unlikely victory took another blow as Mo'unga landed a long range penalty.
A runaway try to loose forward Cyle Brink gave them hope, as he bumped away Matt Todd and fended away Heiden Bedwell-Curtis to score and give the Lions a sniff at 23-13 down after 54 minutes.
Their celebrations were short lived however.
Mitchell Drummond finished off an excellent team try which started with Mo'unga getting the side on the front foot, before offloads from Todd and Codie Taylor saw the nifty No 9 score under the sticks and the lead extend to 30-13.
After repeated infringements, All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty was sent to the sinbin in the 67th minute for cynical play.
The Lions capitalised immediately, as Lions hooker Malcolm Marx squeezed past Test locks Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett to score.
Jantjies' conversion miss though meant the Lions still trailed 30-18.
But for the second time, the Crusaders responded immediately as Barrett barged over from close range to see the Lions' faint hopes blow up in smoke.
The Lions had one final chance to add some respectability to the scoreboard, but once again the Crusaders defence, as it has all year, held firm.