With a World Cup year in the rearview mirror, plenty of All Blacks moving on and a high-profile player move, the New Zealand conference will again make for compelling viewing this Super Rugby season.
The two top teams in the New Zealand conference and in Super Rugby (in terms of points and results) clashed at the Orangetheory Stadium in a 2019 Super Rugby semi-final.
The Crusaders won the two previous encounters between the Kiwi powerhouses. The Crusaders were first to score via the boot of chief playmaker Richie Mo’unga in the third minute of the game. The Crusaders were also the first team to score a try.
Sevu Reece scored in the corner after winger George Bridge successfully contested the ball. All Black Centre Ryan Crotty chipped kick the ball across the field for Reece. The winger scored his 14th try in his last 13 games. Richie Mo’unga converted the try and the Crusaders led the Canes 10-0 after 15 minutes.
Mo’unga booted another penalty over the posts to make the score 13-0 after 33 minutes. However, just before the half-time break, the Hurricanes snared a vital try via the powerful centre Ngani Laumape. All Blacks five-eighth Beauden Barrett successfully landed the conversion making the score 13-7 at the break.
The Hurricanes received a serious talk from Hurricanes captain and All Blacks hooker, Dane Coles and coach, John Plumtree. The talk seemed to have altered the Hurricanes’ attitude and approach in the second half. The Hurricanes scored two minutes after the break via a brilliant Beauden Barrett break. Ben Lam scored the try in the corner and Beauden Barrett could not convert a difficult kick.
The Crusaders struck back two minutes later. Richie Mo’unga displayed some excellent vision and chipped a kick into space behind the charging Hurricanes defence. James Marshall failed to grab the ball. Sevu Reece managed to pick it up and passed it back to Mo’unga, who scored the Crusaders second try. Mo’unga successfully converted the try to give the Crusaders a 20-12 lead.
The second half had a push-pull feel to it. Each time one team scored, the other team would reply. Ngani Laumape scored off a rebound of his chest in the 51st minute. Replays on the TMO indicated that the powerful centre got his arms out of the way, letting the ball hit his chest. Laumape regathered the ball and scored the vital try to keep the Hurricanes in the contest. Beauden Barrett successfully converted the try, making the score 20-19.
Sam Whitelock’s men hit back through the exhilarating winger Reece. In the 58th minute, the Crusaders executed a move involving a series of rapid passing across the field. Reece completed the move and strolled over in the corner for his 15th try of the season. Mo’unga converted the try and the score read 27-19.
TJ Perenara orchestrated smart dummy, fooling the Crusaders defence. He then barged over the try line to make the score 27-24. Barrett converted the try making the score 27-26. With 17 minutes left in the game, the Hurricanes kept pressing and put pressure on the Crusaders defence. However, Richie Mo’unga converted a penalty giving the Crusaders a four-point lead with seven minutes left. The game was in the balance.
In the 79th minute, the referee ruled a controversial penalty in favour of the Crusaders. Richie Mo’unga kicked the ball into touch to end the game. Final score, 30-26 to the Crusaders. Crusaders will play the Jaguares at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch. Sam Whitelock’s men will be aiming for a hat-trick of Super Rugby titles.
On the other hand, the Jaguares – who have had an outstanding season – will be aiming to win their maiden Super Rugby title. If the Crusaders beat the Jaguares on July 6, they will be a record ten-time Super Rugby champions.