The High Five: Super Rugby Final

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    The Crusaders have won the 2017 Super Rugby title after defeating the Lions by 25-17 in Johannesburg, scoring three tries to two in the process.

    It was a hard fought and open contest at Emirates Airlines Park in front of over 60,000 fans as the Crusaders, managed to secure the franchise’s eighth overall title and their first since 2008.

    Here’s the High Five from the Super Rugby final.

    Crusaders defence again prominent
    In the key areas of territory and possession, the Crusaders were caught behind the eight ball but for the second week in a row, a superb defensive effort kept the Lions at bay for the majority of the match. Their groundwork was particularly effective, robbing the dangerous Lions side of momentum on numerous occasions while the defence worked overtime throughout the match.

    One also has to tip their hat to Coach Scott Robertson and his coaching staff for the work done around the defensive systems employed. While the Crusaders had to make 131 tackles, they missed a staggeringly high 37 – which against the Lions would usually spell doom. However, the organisation and commitment of the Crusaders was too much for the Lions to overcome on this occasion.

    The maul and lineout defence was also superb for the visitors; repelling the Lions on several occasions in an area they are usually proficient.

    Mitch Hunt Crusaders Super Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Composure under pressure a key difference
    For many who tipped the Crusaders it was thought a key area of difference would be in the experience of the two sides and one could argue this to indeed be the case. Many of the older heads stood up for the Crusaders, in particular Ryan Crotty who made a number of breaks with ball in helped marshal the defence superbly, winning the MOM award.

    The Crusaders’ ruthlessness to seize the opportunity was in full show last night, both tries in the second half stemming from Lions errors and taking full toll whereas the Lions would struggle at times with their handling and executed poorly on occasion. This robbed the Lions of momentum throughout the match and unable to exert any real pressure on the Crusaders until late in the match.

    Lions’ lineout was a coach killer
    I found it staggering to watch the Lions seemingly flick a switch and really lift their pace and intensity in the last 20 minutes to threaten running down the lead the Crusaders had built. Despite being a man down, they certainly looked to have all the momentum as they pegged the score back from 25-3 to 25-17 with ten to play.

    Unfortunately it was not to be though they squandered a number of opportunities and particularly on their own throw in very good positions which must have been frustrating for the coaching staff looking on. Several steals were taken in prime positions which ultimately stalled what was potentially looking like a dramatic finish as the altitude looked to start taking an effect on the Crusaders. However, the experience and composure up front paid dividends in the end for the Christchurch based side.

    Red card was the right call
    The red card that was awarded to the Lions flanker Kwagga Smith will likely invoke plenty of debate over the next few days but there is no question it was a match defining moment in favour of the Crusaders.

    The rules are pretty clear and the attitude towards such challenges has been applied fairly consistently but should it be looked at moving forward? Should it perhaps have been a yellow instead?

    Not in my mind as while there was obviously no malicious intent from Smith, I find it very difficult to have a lot of sympathy given he was in no real position to challenge for the ball nor did he even manage to leave the ground. I felt the match officials had no real choice in the matter and while it is always a shame to see a match of this magnitude affected in such a way, the rules and attitude have been fairly clear around players in the air. Unfortunately for Smith, he has no one else to blame but himself.

    Tale of two coaches
    It was indeed sad to see Johann Ackermann leave his post as coach of the Lions after two final appearances without a title, especially when considering the journey this side has taken over the past few seasons. He has moulded title-worthy challenges from a squad that not so long ago were considered the easy beats of the competition to be now ranked as one of the power houses of Super Rugby. We will now wait and see how the Lions will perform after losing their talisman coach overseas, a loss not just for the Lions and South Africa, but for the competition as a whole.

    On the flip side, the Crusaders coach Scott Robertson debut year in Super Rugby probably could not have been more perfect, dropping just the one match all season and becoming the first side to win a final in South Africa and only the second side to win a final overseas, mirroring the efforts of the 2000 Crusaders campaign.

    Success seems to follow Robertson, his Canterbury sides have dominated at provincial level for some time and after making such a successful step up in his first year, with a squad many were tipping to come forth in the New Zealand conference alone at the start of the year, it would not be difficult to imagine he is a future All Blacks coach in the making as he appears to simply have that ‘Midas’ touch.

    So that brings the curtain down on another season of Super Rugby, the Crusaders once again standing atop of the mountain as we say goodbye to the competition in its current format. We wait to see what shape Super Rugby will take from 2018 and beyond as the competition looks to drop from the current 18 teams back to a 15-side competition. For now, we have the Rugby Championship to look forward too and only a fortnight away!

    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.

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