The Crusaders have booked themselves another Super Rugby Grand Final with an impressive 30-12 win over the Hurricanes in Christchurch.
Ahead of the game everyone knew that the Crusaders were the favourites but the Canes had so much talent in their back line that there was always a chance that they could turn the tables on the home side and put them under real pressure.
It was going to take a flawless performance for sure but they have the players who could bring the upset!
In the end though the Crusaders were insanely good. Week after week this team have shown that there is no complacency and a genuine desire to try and put in the perfect rugby performance.
Tonight they matched forwards dominance with defensive perfection and clinical attacking to make the Canes look like a very average side.
Richie Mo’unga was the man of the match and in this head to head clash with incumbent All Blacks No.10 Beauden Barrett, Mo’unga has many now calling for Steve Hansen to make a switch for the upcoming Rugby Championship.
Mo’unga was impressive and where Barrett could never get his side going, Mo’unga was able to carve up the Canes defence with some lovely passes and some darting runs that got in behind the defence.
Yes it’s easier to play a good game at No.10 if you’ve got forwards giving you good ball, but Barrett really didn’t look great even when his forwards were in charge.
Sadly both the Barrett brothers for the Canes had average games. Jordie is better at No.15 but was in the centres tonight and neither of them kicked well out of hand.
The fact that they kicked so much had many frustrated but it must have been so hard when they can see that their team’s running game is just not creating anything.
The Canes had their opportunities for sure but more often than not the Crusaders were able to absorb the pressure and either turn the ball over and clear their lines or turn defence into attack.
A number of times the Crusaders were defending in their own 22 and then literally seconds later were in the Canes 22 threatening to stretch their lead.
The Crusaders won all the key moments of the game really including that key period before and after half time where they put on 13 points and really put the game beyond the Canes.
What was perhaps most telling was not any difference in skills between the two sides – both sides are full of talent – but how the Crusaders looked so comfortable in the high-pressure moments.
When they were defending, the home side seemed to trust their teammates and structure perfectly and the Canes couldn’t find a way through.
In attack there was certainty that a man would be on the shoulder to support and there was no need to throw some offload of the season attempt. Just keep doing the basics and the results will come.
On the other side of things the Canes seemed to get frustrated and lose that comfort as the game went on.
They didn’t seem to have a clear strategy for how to break the Crusaders down and players were getting frustrated and doing things they normally wouldn’t when the game plan was delivering no results at all.
The difference was nicely summed up with Braydon Ennor’s try in the 69th minute. The Crusaders had been in the Canes 22 and had been pulling them from one side to another with a mixture of forwards crashing into the defence on the back of short pop passes and then the backs looking to get around the outside.
Matt Todd came close but was brought down just before the line but instead of looking to go short again, Mo’unga knew that the hard work of the previous phases had left the Canes all over the place.
He saw Ennor totally unmarked out wide, put in a good kick and Ennor collected to score the killer try. It was just so efficient and well constructed.
It was a sad way for the Canes to finish their season and they would have loved to give departing captain Brad Shields a shot at the title but they just weren’t good enough today.
Where the Crusaders have got better and better over the season, the Canes seemed to have peaked in late May/early June.
They are a very good side and will beat most teams but today they were never really in it.
So the Crusaders will have a home grand final – now all that matters is who will make the trip to Christchurch – the Lions or the Tahs.