Crusaders defy odds to claim emphatic final win

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Saturday, August 5, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

A new generation of players built on the Crusaders' legend to extend their claim as the competition's dominant side while their coach Scott Robertson became the first person to win a title as a player and as a coach at his first attempt. They remain the only team to have won outside their country, having also beaten the Brumbies in Canberra in 2000.

There was no fairytale ending for Lions coach Johan Ackermann after all his efforts to revive Lions rugby as he departs for England's Premiership with Gloucester.

While the home team suffered a debilitating blow when losing flanker Kwagga Smith to a yellow card two minutes before halftime, the Crusaders were already leading 12-3.

A superior Crusaders approach at the breakdown, where flanker Matt Todd was deadly, was matched by the consistent sacking of the Lions' most powerful weapon, their driving lineout maul.

When they needed to, the Crusaders used their scrum dominance to also apply pressure on the reduced Lions pack to help their own cause while two late lineout takes off Lions throws by lock and captain Sam Whitelock and replacement Luke Romano finally extinguished the home team's efforts to come home with a late run.

Behind it all was an outstanding tackling effort that for the first three-quarters of the game built the foundation that defused the home team's intentions

The Lions' discipline started to come unstuck as they sought ways to get back into the game and when No.8 Kieran Read scored two minutes after the half-time break the job looked all uphill for the Lions.

Negating the Lions lineout maul superbly, the Crusaders several times relieved pressure on their own line, never more than in the 58th minute when Read got up to contest a lineout on the Crusaders line, which allowed another key performer on the day, and man of the match second five-eighths Ryan Crotty, to clear the ball 70m downfield.

The Lions stormed into the game but ran into the intent of the Crusaders on defence. Lions first five-eighths Elton Jantjies lost the ball after being taken in a hefty tackle by Read. Crotty quickly got the ball into left wing Seta Tamanivalu's hands and he raced 70m to score in the seventh minute.

Jantjies put the re-start directly into touch and from the mid-field scrum, the Crusaders ran the ball to the left with first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga setting up the breakdown and that saw Crotty get through a gap in midfield to pass to hooker Codie Taylor. He took the ball up to the goal-line before a ruck saw the ball moved to the left where Read gave centre Jack Goodhue a long pass to score in the corner.

Jantjies opened the Lions' scoring with a 51m penalty goal in the 26th minute.

The Lions then opted to try to use their lineout maul instead of taking a shot for goal but good work by Todd at the breakdown on the Crusaders line punished the Lions' decision.

Then the Lions lost Kwagga Smith in the 37th minute to a red card when he was penalised for a dangerous charge on Crusaders fullback David Havili as he contested a ball in the air resulting in Havili coming to ground in a dangerous position.

That loss was borne out at the next scrum when the Crusaders' superior weight in the push resulted in a penalty being conceded and Mo'unga landed it to give the Crusaders a 15-3 lead at half-time.

After the re-start, Crotty was in the action again, this time with a crossfield kick for Israel Dagg on his wing. He took the ball and passed inside to flanker Jordan Taufua who set up the ruck. As the ball was swung, Read crossed beneath the posts.

Home prop Ruan Dreyer had a torrid day in the scrums, conceding penalties when packing against both Joe Moody and Wyatt Crockett.

The Lions did mount an effort to make a late run at the title. In the 63rd minute hooker Malcolm Marx got over wide out after a series of probing attacks by the home team after the introduction of Faf de Klerk at halfback lifted the tempo of the game. Then, in the 72nd minute replacement prop Corne Fourie scored after gaps finally appeared in the tiring Crusaders defence.

But those two key lineout takes, deep in their own half in the last five minutes by replacement lock Luke Romano and Whitelock proved crucial in denying the home side their last chances to pressure the scoreboard.

Scorers: Lions 17 (Malcolm Marx, Corne Fourie tries; Elton Jantjies 2 con, pen) Crusaders 25 (Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Kieran Read tries; Richie Mo'unga 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 3-15

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