Great to be eight! Crusaders conquer Lions to take another title

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    The Crusaders have been crowned Super Rugby champions for 2017 after defeating the Lions at Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg by 25 points to 17 in a hard fought and composed performance in front of over 60,000 fans.

    The Lions started the match full of intent, seemingly determined to not make another slow start after the last two matches, however they could not quite find their cohesion and accuracy early.

    An early mistake at a ruck saw Ryan Crotty swoop on the loose ball and pop to his winger Seta Tamanivalu who would run 70 meters untouched to open the scoring for the visitors, duly converted by Richie Mo’unga for an early 7-0 lead.

    Elton Jantjies kicked the restart out on the full and the Crusaders, from halfway built a superb attack, which they swept into the Lions 22 and with quick ball, centre Jack Goodhue was released on the outside to score in the corner and the Crusaders had raced to an early lead.

    The Lions fought their way back into the match, dominating for periods as they looked to strike back but poor handling at times let them down though they did manage a penalty to Jantjies to reduce some of the deficit.

    That was before disaster struck for the host side, flanker Kwagga Smith colliding with David Havili, who had leapt to take a high ball and landed awkwardly on his back.

    After consultation with the TMO, referee Jaco Peyper deemed the challenge reckless and issued a red card, reducing the Lions to 14 for the balance of the contest in what proved to be a match-defining decision.

    Richie Mo’unga landed a penalty on the stroke of halftime and the Crusaders had a healthy advantage of 15-3 at the break.

    The Crusaders picked up where they left off at halftime, immediately surging onto attack and the Lions eventually cracked with Kieran Read barging over.

    With the conversion the Crusaders were looking comfortable at 22-3, and even more so after more pressure resulted in another penalty to Mo’unga and the lead stretched by another three.

    To their credit, the Lions certainly did not die wondering as they increased their intensity and pace as they fought valiantly to bring themselves back into the match.

    For a brief moment, they certainly looked capable after securing two tries to pull the margin back to eight points despite the numerical disadvantage.

    However, their lineout failed at key moments and the Crusaders’ composure saw them close out the match and secure the franchise’s eighth Super title and first since 2008.

    A Rotundity and happy ex hooker who just loves Rugby really, oh and my kids and Kendra of course who lets me watch as much Rugby as I want, mostly. Follow Digby Ross on Twitter @Diggercane.