Sun, Aug 05, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Mo’unga puts Crusaders on cloud nine

WELL DESERVED:Despite claiming nearly two-thirds of possession and utilizing their fearsome driving maul, the Lions’ lack of variety failed to break the Crusaders’ defense


Heiden Bedwell-Curtis of the Canterbury Crusaders takes the line-out ball during their Super Rugby final against the Golden Lions yesterday in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Photo: AFP

Richie Mo’unga yesterday pulled all the strings as the Canterbury Crusaders beat the Golden Lions 37-18 to claim a ninth Super Rugby title and their second in a row.

The defending champions, who started as red-hot favorites in Christchurch, produced a heroic defensive effort with Mo’unga clinically engineering the points when chances arose.

The flyhalf had a hand in all the scoring moves as the Crusaders led 20-6 at halftime and then responded with a try after both of the Lions’ tries in the second period.

The South African visitors enjoyed nearly two-thirds of possession and territory throughout the final, but could not produce the variety of play to crack the Crusaders’ defense.

Six times when they tried their most potent weapon, the driving maul, they were pushed back.

“To do it last year and do it again was pretty special,” said Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who celebrated with his trademark break dance. “Our maul defense was huge. It had to be. If they had scored two or three times, they win. For us as group it depends how much you care. We won it on defense last year and did it again this year.”

Robertson was especially pleased that with the game won, the Crusaders spent more than two minutes at the end without letting the Lions in.

“You know your team’s tight when they do that,” he said.

Lions skipper Warren Whiteley said that as much as he was disappointed at losing a third consecutive five, the Crusaders were the better team.

“Obviously I’m gutted, a bit emotional to be honest,” he said. “We gave it everything out there and credit must go to the Crusaders — they were unbelievable.”

The Crusaders outscored the Lions by four converted tries to two and man-of-the-match Mo’unga added three penalties, as Super Rugby’s dominant side stretched their winning streak to 15 matches.

The Lions have a reputation for being slow starters, as they were in last year’s final in Johannesburg when they trailed 25-3 at halftime and lost 25-17.

However, a year on, they were fired up at the start and applied early pressure.

Ruan Combrinck sliced through Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock on a 40m dash to the line, where the Lions pounded the Crusaders defense for 10 minutes, but the best they could achieve was three points from an Elton Jantjies penalty.

The Crusaders struck back immediately with a penalty from Mo’unga, whose overhead pass then put Seta Tamanivalu over in the corner.

A raking Mo’unga kick and a Jantjies error won the Crusaders a 5m scrum which led to Mo’unga’s second penalty, before the flyhalf took a high ball under pressure and launched a counterattack that led to David Havili’s try.

After Jantjies and Mo’unga traded penalties either side of halftime, Cyle Brink scored the Lions’ first try to close the gap to 23-13.

While the Crusaders were primed to protect their line, they were also ready to strike back when necessary. Mitchell Drummond went under the posts to reopen a 17-point margin, and when Malcolm Marx scored for the Lions, the home side effectively sealed victory with a try to Scott Barrett.

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