Eight talking points from the Super Rugby Final

Oliver Matthews Roar Guru

By Oliver Matthews, Oliver Matthews is a Roar Guru

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    Well there we go. As many predicted way back in February, the Crusaders have picked up their ninth Super Rugby title and broken Lions hearts for the third year in a row at the final hurdle.

    While the result ended up going the way most of us expected that doesn’t mean that it was a boring match with little to talk about – far from it.

    Crusaders make defence a weapon
    It’s been spoken about a lot this year but the Crusaders defence is something impressive. What stands out is the way in which they just seem so comfortable when defending.

    While other teams might be a bit panicky or concerned that if they are having to defend then that must be a bad thing, the Crusaders seem to view it as an opportunity to dominate their opposition and break their spirits.

    In all sorts of contact sports, a club’s defence is viewed as a big indicator of the start of the broader culture at the club. Defence is a state of mind and clearly things have been very happy in Christchurch for a while.

    What’s more impressive is how the Crusaders are able to use their defence to gain territory. For them it’s not a case of not letting the opposition gain ground, defence is a chance to push them back and force them further away from the try line.

    Time and again the Lions would throw their biggest and bravest at the wall of black and red, and time and again they would not just be stopped but driven back.

    This meant the Lions forwards had to scramble back to try and get involved in the ruck and that meant slower ball and fewer chances of an overlap somewhere.

    You can be sure that defence coaches around the world will be analysing plenty of tape of the Crusaders during their respective offseasons. But hopefully they won’t forget that the biggest coaching job for them is to get their players’ heads straight.

    Crusaders

    (Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

    The Lions and the case of the missing off-load
    When the Lions did crash into the Crusaders defence they gave it everything but made so few inroads. This was partly down to their ineffective off-loading and short passing game. They just were not creating enough complexity for the Crusaders to have to deal with.

    The contrast was clear to see in the home side’s first try when Kieran Read gave a perfectly timed short pass just before being hit in the line. That put Heiden Bedwell-Curtis into a gap and he crashed through gaining a critical 10m or so.

    This was too much for the Lions to cope with and a couple of passes later Seta Tamanivalu was scoring in the corner. That short pop from the Crusaders No.8 was simple but it made all the difference.

    The Lions have a power game that is the envy of many but against the Crusaders they needed to add these extra elements to really challenge the champions and it was just missing in action.

    Lions’ set piece problems
    Of course sides at this level of professional rugby do their homework ahead of a game and the Crusaders would have known that the Lions set piece was going to be at the forefront of the South Africans attack in the Final.

    But doing your homework is one thing – executing a strategy that entirely nullifies the Lions lineout is on another level.

    After the game, Lions captain Warren Whiteley shared how nothing his lads could do at the lineout was able to surprise the home side:

    “We tried the peel around the front, we tried one towards the back, we went straight, pretty much did everything that we could and they were just very good.”

    Time and again the Crusaders would drive the Lions line out back as it attempted to get its maul rolling. Last week the Lions lineout monstered the Tahs several times but this week it was a damp firework that just would not light.

    What then made the situation worse was that the Lions didn’t seem to have a Plan B, which takes us to…

    Poor decision-making when it mattered
    It’s tough when one of your biggest weapons all season fails to fire in the game that really matters but the Lions didn’t seem to have too many ideas.

    To be fair they didn’t have too many other options but there were too many examples where when things weren’t going right the Lions failed to adjust quick enough.

    One example was in the second half when the Lions had a penalty awarded. They were well behind but a quick try could just give them the momentum they needed to start putting some pressure on the Crusaders.

    While the driving maul from the lineout hadn’t been working, the Lions lineout itself was pretty solid so you’d assume that when given the penalty the South Africans would head for the line out once more.

    However they chose to go for goal. The fact that they missed that kick obviously made things worse but at that point in the game the kick was the wrong option. They needed points and they need some confidence and the penalty kick at goal was a bad idea.

    Another interesting example came during Ryan Crotty’s time in the sin bin. The Lions had another penalty and were pretty close to the Crusaders’ line.

    This time they did go for touch but why didn’t they ask for the scrum? The penalty was quite close to the middle of the field and with the Crusaders have defend with one fewer backs there would have been a huge amount of ground for the reduced Crusaders defence to cover.

    The Lions did end up scoring shortly after this lineout but it still looked like a strange decision when it was made.

    Lionel Mapoe

    (MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images)

    Power of the bench
    As the game went on and the Lions fought valiantly to try and get themselves back in the game, both sides started using their benches and here the Crusaders were in such a strong position.

    Whereas the Lions arguably had to be happy with a fresh pair of legs coming on, the Crusaders had some great talent coming off their bench.

    This was highlighted with Scott Barrett’s try where replacements Peter Samu, Mitchell Drummond and Sam Anderson-Heather all interlinked nicely to put the big second row over.

    Such incredible depth is so important over a long season and the Crusaders demonstrated yet again that they have the complete squad, not just an awesome starting XV.

    Always the bridesmaid, never the bride
    The Lions are a good side and while there is no shame in losing to this Crusaders side, this Lions group might look back and see this as their last chance to win their first title.

    They are due to lose some players and the style that they play just doesn’t seem to be working at the very top level.

    Yes they entertain and they score points galore, but how much longer can they point to the “points for” column and hope people don’t notice the empty trophy cabinet?

    It will be interesting to see if they can maintain and even improve their performance next season and become a genuine threat to the title.

    McKenzie might have to settle on fullback for the All Blacks
    Another man of the match performance and more accolades for Richie Mo’unga continue to drive the debates about what Steve Hansen will do come the Rugby Championship.

    There’s plenty of people saying that one of the reasons why Mo’unga is playing so well is the high quality pack that works so hard in front of him.

    While it’s certainly true that every number 10 wants their pack to dominate, that doesn’t mean that just because your pack is on fire that your performance then steps up automatically.

    Secondly, the All Blacks seem to have a pretty fair pack as well so why not stick one of if not the most in-form fly-halves in the world in for the Kiwis come the first round?

    The other pretender for the crown – Damian McKenzie – has had a pretty good season at No.10, he has also shown that in the big games, his rapid style of play can cause more problems than positives. So perhaps Mo’unga is going to be the immediate backup to Beauden Barrett.

    Of course McKenzie does have that pro in his favour that he can play both as No.10 or No.15 and so as a bench player he arguably offers more options to Hansen.

    It will be interesting to see which way the All Blacks coach goes.

    All Blacks coach Steve Hansen

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    The Rugby Championship beckons
    Luckily for rugby fans we don’t have to wait long for more of the sport we love. The Rugby Championship kicks off in two weeks and there’s plenty to be excited about.

    For many it’s hard to see past the All Blacks as winners, but there has been plenty on display this season in both Super Rugby and the June Internationals to suggest that there are going to be lots of twists and turns to focus on as the championship unfolds.

    Let’s hope that the Argentine side are more Jaguares than Puma and that the Wallabies and Springboks really stand up and show what they can do.

    The Wallabies especially will be wanting to build on the better year that their club sides have had and all sides will know that with just over a year to go until the big dance in Japan next year, this is one of the final chances to try new things as they look to bed in combinations and build momentum.

    Rebuild announcement

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • Roar Rookie

      August 5th 2018 @ 10:24am
      Paulo said | August 5th 2018 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      Good write up and well done all teams for a great SR season. Saw some real improvement in some sides which bode well for the future if they can connect to us the trend.

      Good discussion points. Agree there were some poor decisions by the Lions, Jantjies again went missing for a while. And he had the taking the ball past the plane of in goal moment which was created an issue out of what should have been nothing much.

      Thought Gardner had a good game, although could few his frustration with the lineout gap, which they got sorted, and the scrums, which they didn’t really sort. Having to explain rules, not just rulings, must be annoying.

      As for RM, wouldn’t be surprised if they stick with B.B. as starting the Dmac as cover on the bench. Having a specialist 10 on the bench as opposed to a utility back is a challenge. Personally I would like RM to start, and B.B. as bench cover, or as starting FB. Then maybe Dmac as cover. Although you could put Jordie on the bench cover spot instead for his utility in the centres. I just think Dmac coming on at 60mins would break a tight game.

      Looking forward to a great RC though.

      • August 5th 2018 @ 1:53pm
        Fionn said | August 5th 2018 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

        It doesn’t make much difference having RM or McKenzie as Barrett covers 10/15 also.

        I don’t like having RM and Barrett on the field at the same time also. It’s too much x-factor, not enough basic/solid play.

        DMac is the incumbent though and might get the nod.

        • August 5th 2018 @ 2:37pm
          Gus said | August 5th 2018 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

          RM is not all about x-factor though, he has it, but also does do the basics well. Out of B Barrett, McKenzie & RM, he does the basics best

          • August 5th 2018 @ 3:28pm
            Fionn said | August 5th 2018 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

            Yeah mate, that’s what I mean to say – ‘I don’t like having DM and Barrett on the field at the same time’ :). Sorry!

            I am in total agreement about Mounga.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 6th 2018 @ 5:56pm
        Shane D said | August 6th 2018 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

        Don’t agree having a specialist 10 on the bench is a challenge. Cruden & Sapoanga are both specialist 10’s & the AB’s used them on the bench regularly.
        Barrett’s ability to cover 15 plus the versatility of both Ben Smith & Ioane to cover 12 & 13 make it a no brainer to have a 10 on the pine instead of another utility back for mine.

        • August 7th 2018 @ 6:07pm
          Jacko said | August 7th 2018 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

          im pretty sure that BB, Dmac and Mounga are specialists at 10…BB & Dmac just have far greater experience at covering other positions than Mounga but im pretty sure he would handle FB as well

    • August 5th 2018 @ 10:25am
      Frank said | August 5th 2018 @ 10:25am | ! Report

      Great read Oliver and I appreciate your comments about defence. Doesn’t get spoken about enough. Without defence (and discipline) ABs will smash us. (Is Nathan grey still our defence coach??)

    • August 5th 2018 @ 10:28am
      moa said | August 5th 2018 @ 10:28am | ! Report

      Very nicely put together Oliver.
      I thought at the time that Combrinck long-range attempt was the wrong call.The Lions had a bit of momentum building and I sensed the Crusaders were just starting to sit back a bit and be less proactive.
      That the kick failed compounded the ‘error’ in my view and worse still—instead of being down inside the host’s 22 they were sent back under their own sticks when the Crusaders scored!
      I thought the Lions did make a few decent offloads…some of which were inaccurate and stymied any advantage…but that it was the short-passing game of the Crusader forwards (similarly as effective as the ABs’) that made the real difference.
      Taylor to Drummond and Bedwell-Curtis(?) to Barrett spring to mind but they were numerous.

      Finally on Mo’unga.I have thought it for a while now and the performances in these big games has confirmed it in my mind that he would be excellent starting at 10 for NZ.I don’t expect it to happen before the 2nd half of the RC but it might! Hansen and co have revealed themselves to be courageous when necessary.
      I thought he muffed a couple of opportunities to cleanly exit early on last night…but grew into the game beautifully as time went on.Very polished performance.
      Sorry to see Tamanivalu leaving….he has impressed and a shout out for Wyatt Crockett et alia.I usually don’t watch the after-match ceremonies and stuff but last night’s was quite compelling.

      • August 5th 2018 @ 2:59pm
        Sylvester said | August 5th 2018 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

        I think the Lions needed to be more brave and forego some of those penalty attempts in search of tries. The Crusaders were always going to score points, so the Lions needed to be going up by 5/7, not just 3.

        • August 5th 2018 @ 10:47pm
          double agent said | August 5th 2018 @ 10:47pm | ! Report

          The 3’s was crazy stuff.

      • August 5th 2018 @ 3:45pm
        Akari said | August 5th 2018 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

        “Bedwell-Curtis(?) to Barrett”

        I thought it was Makalio’s slight of hand pass to Barrett? I’ll have to watch a replay to confirm but it resembled that Tim Tszyu ghost punch of a knock-out on Friday night

        • August 5th 2018 @ 3:49pm
          Highlander said | August 5th 2018 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

          You right Akari, replacement hooker slipped a very nice pass

          • August 5th 2018 @ 5:08pm
            moa said | August 5th 2018 @ 5:08pm | ! Report

            Yeah thanks guys…I couldn’t quite recall who it was–but it was lovely!

            (This article deserved more than a handful of us commenting….when some trashy piece on the other side can chuck out a bit of clickbait it makes me shake my head in wonderment! 😉

            • August 5th 2018 @ 5:12pm
              Highlander said | August 5th 2018 @ 5:12pm | ! Report

              concur

        • August 5th 2018 @ 5:12pm
          moa said | August 5th 2018 @ 5:12pm | ! Report

          Akari,
          You give me a ‘Makalio’ and I’ll raise you a ‘sleight’ of hand 😉

          • Roar Guru

            August 5th 2018 @ 9:26pm
            Kia Kaha said | August 5th 2018 @ 9:26pm | ! Report

            I liked Todd’s offload after he missed a vital firstup tackle and then the no look pass from Taylor to Drummond.

            But that lead up to Barret’s try spoke much of the Crusader’s bench and their ability to ask questions of the defence that the Lions couldn’t pose themselves.

          • August 6th 2018 @ 11:04am
            Akari said | August 6th 2018 @ 11:04am | ! Report

            Indeed and nice one, moa.

    • August 5th 2018 @ 11:04am
      Highlander said | August 5th 2018 @ 11:04am | ! Report

      Nice write up Oliver and thanks for your thoughts over the season.

      The Crusaders certainly now how to defend, their confidence to back the line demonstrated by repeatedly kicking up the middle of the park and advancing as a unit, I noted on one occasion Crotty well in front of the other chasing defenders, and rather than risk being beaten and a break he simply stopped and waited for the line to form up on him, really good discipline.

      Thought the one key area was Marx’ second lineout throw, went long, lost it, and never ad the confidence to go long again, made it so much easier for the Crusaders go attack the maul when the ball was always thrown short.

      The Crusaders are ruthless, and almost every time you felt they needed to strike they did.

      They neutered the Lions maul, neutered Marx and Smith on the day -not an easy feat.
      There is a level of detail in Razors coaching not often acknowledged – they clearly put the hours in around the game plan.

      • August 5th 2018 @ 4:36pm
        Old Bugger said | August 5th 2018 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

        I agree HL…..still can’t believe how both Kwagga and Marx were awol regarding turnovers. These blokes were top of the stats for ruck turnovers but last night, I didn’t hear or see any steal from either of them. That, was a master plan just like how the Saders treated both the Lions scrum and lineout. Absolutely gob-smacking in their execution.

        As for the Saders defence -well gees, I suggest the ABs d-line will be a tough nut to crack if the pack is made up of the Saders tight 5 with Read at the back, for good measure. That Saders d-line was unbreakable for 50+mins at least or until the Lions, finally scored their 1st try in H2.

        The Lions threw everything in their arsenal at the Saders and still, the d-line held. And when it finally did break, the Saders still had wind in their lungs to return serve, with Barrett’s try. Amazing stuff indeed and a champion team that’s gonna take one helluva good team, to get them if they can, at all.

        • Roar Rookie

          August 6th 2018 @ 5:31am
          tsuru said | August 6th 2018 @ 5:31am | ! Report

          I look forward to somebody’s review and explanation of how the Crusaders managed to neutralise the Lion’s lineout, maul and particularly the breakdown. I don’t believe Kwagga Smith and Malcom Marx actually went missing. Nicholas Bishop??

          • August 6th 2018 @ 9:34am
            Old Bugger said | August 6th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

            I think for starters, you have to understand what was being mentioned in the week leading into the match……the Saders were going to meet a monster pack, who just dominate their opposition in set-piece and turnovers. This was being driven by media in both countries so you have to expect Razor and his senior players spending most of the week, with formulating counters against this Lions pack.

            And the best counter they had in their arsenal was to turn-up the heat in the d-line and increase their own pack physicality in the collisions, line-outs and scrums.

            When a Sader went down in the tackle, it wasn’t a surprise to see their team-mates cleaning out by committing 2-3 players to each tackle and ruck. Everytime a Lions forward looked likely to get over the ball in the tackle, you’d see a couple of Saders do an immediate clean-out and those clean-outs weren’t soft – they were massive impacts that eventually over the course of the game, can take the breath right out of the Lions player.

            The Saders were well prepared for the rolling maul and apart from the first one when Marshall was correct to say the Saders hit the maul before the jumper hit the ground, the rest of the Lions rolling maul attempts were countered by the Saders timing and execution, of their defensive maul attack. The Saders improved ability to bind and push as a single unit effectively prevented the Lions from splintering and regathering, for a second shove attempt or even to change the line or direction, of their mauling attempt. It becomes difficult to maul attack when your pack, is going backwards at a quick pace when you can’t get your heels dug in to become stationary thus allowing you to re-group and start, a forward moving rolling maul.

            It is quite a marvel indeed to watch a rolling maul, when it is being performed at its best but, to see a countering maul simply turn that attacking maul into a defensive maul is indeed, execution at its optimum.

            The scrum has always been a weapon for this Saders pack and when you have 7 current ABs including the front-row, it certainly improves your execution levels to ensure unity in the push, becomes second nature. While I’m no scrummager, I did have cause to query a couple of scrums and which side “popped out” from the front row first……but I suppose in hindsight, it is neither here nor there. Scrums are sometimes, a lolly scramble but, I take my hat off to Gardener for his subtle reminders to both front rows about what was discussed, in their pre-game meetings. It put the onus back on each front row to uphold their end of the bargain and ensure a settled scrum, before the ball is released by the HB.

            In that respect, I think both scrums were able to operate with better efficiency and if I recall, I think there were a couple of scrum penalties when the ball is held at the back. Admittedly, Gardener issued a couple of scrum short-arm penalties but for us as spectators, there wasn’t a cacophony of whistle-blowing with scrum reset, after reset, after reset.

            Finally, I was really impressed with the Saders d-line. If you noticed, nearly every tackle by a Sader ended with one objective – to put the tackled player, on the deck. I think there was one maul ruling against the Lions No12, for being held up in the tackle and giving a turnover scrum. Most of the game, the Saders tacklers all looked to grab the ball runner and fall to the ground bringing down the ball runner, before there was a chance to offload. By going to ground early in the collision, it offered opportunities for the Saders to go for the turn-over or failing that, just get over the tackle and slow-down the Lions attempt, to release the ball back into play.

            In this game, it just seemed to me that the Saders forwards, were the ones that hunted like a pack whereas the Lions…….mmmm???

            • Roar Rookie

              August 6th 2018 @ 10:42am
              tsuru said | August 6th 2018 @ 10:42am | ! Report

              Thanks OB. I’m going to watch a replay of the game bearing in mind what you are saying.

      • August 5th 2018 @ 10:48pm
        double agent said | August 5th 2018 @ 10:48pm | ! Report

        Marx? Who’s Marx?

        • August 7th 2018 @ 6:10pm
          Jacko said | August 7th 2018 @ 6:10pm | ! Report

          LOL…Didnt he have a brother?

      • August 6th 2018 @ 8:01am
        Riccardo said | August 6th 2018 @ 8:01am | ! Report

        “There is a level of detail in Razors coaching not often acknowledged”

        Great comment mate.

        Those line out charges as the Lions got ready to maul were beautiful to watch; I wondered what their plan to counter was going to be. Maybe a little lucky not to get penalised in that 1st one but it was so effective and one of the things that threw the Lions off their game early.

        Marx had a couple of good moments but was largely nullified. Intelligent and innovative coaching.

    • Roar Guru

      August 5th 2018 @ 1:58pm
      Ralph said | August 5th 2018 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

      I would like to say thank you to the Lion’s team and their supporters.

      Your team was tough, brave and played a strong game. Better perhaps then a team who has had to travel 12,000 miles to play their final would be expected to play. We can only ever become as good as our opposition force us to become and you forced us to really play our hearts out.

      Thank you for bringing it, thank you for taking it to us, and my condolences for the pain of coming second.

      You guys are the best. All respect from me.

      Good luck for next year.

    • August 5th 2018 @ 2:25pm
      Fionn said | August 5th 2018 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

      I’m really sad the Lions never got any of these titles. I am sure that they will challenge for the South African conference again next year, but after losing their start coach last year and so many good players last year and this you’d have to think that their chance to win Super Rugby might have passed.

      I don’t like to single him out but Jantjies really cost them.

      Well done Crusaders on a thoroughly deserved title.

      Although it makes you wonder about Blackadder’s coaching somewhat… Or is Razor Robinson just amazing?

      • Roar Guru

        August 6th 2018 @ 1:30pm
        Train Without A Station said | August 6th 2018 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

        I’m not sad at all.

        They’ve been a very good team and I’ve got nothing against them but factors outside their control (conference set up) has given them a real leg up at times.

        This year they weren’t nearly as strong as 2017 either and part of that was actually facing NZ teams.

        I find them a likable team but I don’t think they’ve been the stand out that fell at the final hurdle which is how they tend to come across.

        • August 6th 2018 @ 6:59pm
          Fionn said | August 6th 2018 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

          I see what you mean. I don’t think they were the best team in 2016, 17 or 18.

          However, I think that they were the second best team in both 16 and 17. At the end of this season they may well have been the best. Them, the Chiefs and Hurricanes looked similarly good at the end of the season.

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