The Crusaders will host the 2018 Super Rugby final after beating the Hurricanes 30-12 in Christchurch on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The eight-time champions will play either the Lions or Waratahs, who will meet in the second semi-final at Ellis Park.
The win only served to enhance the Crusaders’ reputation as one of the sport’s greatest playoff teams. They’ve now won all 20 of their knockout matches in Christchurch while maintaining their 100% post-season win record against the Hurricanes (five from five).
It says a lot about this Crusaders side, especially their young backline, that they managed to curb a star-studded Hurricanes lineup and make the All Blacks-laden visitors look second rate at times.
Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga comprehensively outplayed the more accomplished Beauden Barrett, centres Jack Goodhue and Ryan Crotty won the midfield battle against the error-prone Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, and the Crusaders’ back three had a field day in open play. Even the influential TJ Perenara was ineffective at scrumhalf. Mo’unga was named Man of the Match for his all-round brilliant contribution.
Although the opening exchanges of this contest were scrappy, the Crusaders shook off the early jitters and settled down quickly. They engaged the Hurricanes defenders, but a few unforced handling errors and a couple of cruel bounces of the ball prevented them from scoring.
With the Hurricanes under siege, the dam wall eventually broke when an initial break by Goodhue was finished off by Mo’unga for a self-converted try in the 15th minute.
The Canes responded almost immediately. Having won back possession from the restart, they surged on to the attack and scored through Julian Savea to level matters. However, it was a contentious decision to award the try as there was no definitive evidence of whether the wing had control of the ball and stayed in touch. However, because the on-field decision was a try, the TMO could not overturn it.
The Crusaders took that in their stride and continued in clinical fashion. George Bridge scored their second try, originating from turnover possession after some great defence in their own 22, before Mo’unga’s two penalties on the stroke of half-time made it 18-7.
The Hurricanes would have hoped to launch a second-half comeback, but it was one-way traffic, with the Crusaders making all the play.
The hosts picked up where they left off before half-time. One poor kick-return by Beauden Barrett was all it took for them to punish the defensive line as Goodhue went on a searing run that resulted in a try for David Havili.
While the Crusaders continued to dominate for the rest of the game, their next score only came in the 69th minute when Mo’unga’s perfectly executed crosskick found replacement Braydon Ennor.
The Hurricanes thought they had scored a late try, but replays confirmed Beauden Barrett grounded the ball short of the line.
They did have the final say, though, when Ben Lam darted over in the final minute, but it did nothing to diminish the Crusaders’ statement performance.
Crusaders – Tries: Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge, David Havili, Braydon Ennor. Conversions: Mo’unga (2). Penalties: Mo’unga (2).
Hurricanes – Tries: Julian Savea, Ben Lam. Conversion: Beauden Barrett.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Gareth Evans, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Ardie Savea/Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen.
Photo: Marty Melville/Getty Images