So the Crusaders have won the Super Rugby title! No you’re not reading an article from 2017 or 2018 – they’ve done it again. Three titles in a row and a very well deserved title.
The best team won on the night, but don’t think they blew the Jaguares away – far from it. It was a brutal game as both sides tried to batter the opposition into submission with some intense defence.
But once we get past the superlatives for the Crusaders and the jokes about Scott Robertson’s dancing, there is plenty to talk about. So without further ado, let’s get stuck into the final Super Rugby talking points of 2019.
Crotty and Barrett who?
There was plenty of talk ahead of the match about how much of an impact there would be for the Crusaders with two of their big names missing due to injury. While they are both fantastic players and so important to the Christchurch side, the team didn’t miss a beat.
Their line out was a bit weaker than usual but their scrum was perfect and it was a useful weapon against the Jaguares earning them a number of important penalties.
Their backline defence was still well organised and miserly as ever – the Crusaders made over 80 per cent of their tackles and even more importantly conceded zero tries.
Which other international sides can the Crusaders beat?
There has been plenty of chat about how the Jaguares are basically the Pumas in disguise and how many international caps there are within the setup – over 615 in their final starting line-up.
But considering that the Crusaders have just held that team of talent and experience to three points and beaten them in a high-pressure final, it does make you wonder which other international sides the Crusaders could do over.
So who do you reckon? Could they beat the other Southern Hemisphere heavyweights in South Africa and Australia? What about the best of the Northern Hemisphere? You’d have to say that the Crusaders would beat the Scots, the French and the Italians without doubt. What about the big three northern sides of Wales, England and Ireland?
It does raise another question – is it a good thing that we’ve got club sides playing who could beat some of the top ten countries in the world? Should the talent be spread around a bit more at club level?
Fortune favours the brave
Of course it takes great skill, fitness and strategy to win a title. But in this one-off game, when both sides are at the top of their game, sometimes it takes something extra and in this match, the Crusaders reaped the rewards of being brave when it mattered.
As the half time siren sounded, the Crusaders were stuck in their own 22 having weathered a passage of Jaguares pressure. They had the scrum and so everyone was expecting them to win the scrum, kick to touch and head to the sheds with a slim lead.
Instead, Hall picked up the ball from the scrum and darted down the short side. The team went with him perfectly and within seconds the home side weren’t desperately trying to defend – they were threatening to score. In the end, they earned a penalty and Richie Mo’unga knocked it over to stretch that slim lead into something a bit more healthy.
In the 51st minute, the Crusaders again caught the Jaguares by surprise. The home side were given a penalty deep inside the 22 and as Mo’unga turned to the touchline everyone was thinking how brave of Whitelock to go for the try.
Whitelock meanwhile was thinking “You think going for the line out is brave? Hold my beer!” and he called for a trick play.
Mo’unga tapped the ball and passed it back to the pod of forwards who were trying to look inconspicuous who then dashed for the line. They got over but in the end the Jags held the ball up and no try was given. Three minutes later though the Crusaders had another penalty and picked up another three points.
These moments are crucial, especially in high-pressure games like a final. The game didn’t have loads of tries or amazing counter attacks but it did have the Crusaders trusting themselves and being brave.
Should the final be at a neutral venue?
Not at all saying that the visitors would have won if the game was played in a neutral venue but you have to feel that it would be a more balanced challenge. Earning home-field advantage in the quarters and semis makes sense but to then have one side have to travel so far while the others just need to get an Uber down the road doesn’t quite seem fair.
Of course the challenges of playing at a neutral ground are not easy to overcome. If you played – say at Eden Park – then yes it would be a neutral ground but the Jags still have to travel halfway around the world and the Crusaders will still have the majority of the venue supporters.
If you then start looking at hosting the match in Australia or South Africa, then there is a huge risk that you’ll get a very poorly attended final which no one wants.
It’s just one of those curious aspects of Super Rugby but I wonder how the Jaguares feel after having earned their way to the final to then have to travel so far to play in the opposition’s own back yard.
Will the Jaguares’ form translate to Rugby Championship?
Given that the Jags do have such a high number of Pumas in their ranks and given how well they have done this season – will we see the Pumas succeed this winter in the Rugby Championship?
You have to say that the Pumas should be eyeing up home and away wins against the Wallabies and why not the Springboks too?
The Jags tore some of the best of the Wallabies squad to pieces when they beat the Brumbies in the semi-final and the Jags topped the South African conference.
What has been especially interesting about them has been their brutal defence. Spearheaded by the likes of Pablo Matera and Tomas Lavanini they have become known for a well organised and very hard-hitting defence that has caused some of the best attacking sides in the competition nightmares.
One point of concern though is the Jags’ scrum this year – it hasn’t been the rock solid, reliable feature of their play that it usually is and in the past few weeks they’ve really struggled at scrum time. This could cost them badly at the top levels if they don’t sort it out.
So what is a pass mark for the Pumas in this year’s Championship? Arguably 3rd but they should be eyeing up 2nd.
What will Super Rugby 2020 hold?
Yes, yes, the final whistle has only just blown and even though there’s a Rugby Championship and World Cup to go this year, let’s start looking ahead to Super Rugby 2020!
Well, there a couple of interesting points that spring to mind. Firstly it’s the Sunwolves final year and what type of team they will be is anyone’s guess. They’ve been put in a terrible position where it will be even harder to recruit talent for just one year and the general atmosphere in the club is going to be pretty brutal.
Secondly – with so much experienced talent leaving Super Rugby after the World Cup, who will be the young players who will step up and stamp their name on the competition? The Australians have an impressive Under 20s side coming through so expect to see plenty of them getting more game time, but what about everyone else?