There’s one pretty important little element about dynasty teams, and it often gets overlooked with all the emotion and the what-ifs and the case-making for the underdog in the lead-up to finals matches.
And I don’t mean ‘overlooked’ as in completely ignored; more that this little element is just so obvious that it’s easy to shift to the side. You acknowledge it quickly but then move on to the case-making and the what-ifs and the emotion.
That important little element?
Dynasty teams, as we’re quickly reminded, are actually pretty bloody good.
It’s a popular theory that you need to lose a final before you can win one, and though this is one I don’t necessarily subscribe to, there is no doubt the Jaguares will be in a better position to take a maiden title next season because they came up short in Christchurch on Saturday night.
The Jaguares’ form coming into the final was very good; probably better than the Crusaders, even, from the perspective of the longevity of the run and their general consistency over the second half of the season.
But they were always going to have to play their best game of the year to overcome the Crusaders in Christchurch, something that would’ve been fresh in their minds, as it was exactly the same equation the Brumbies faced the leading into the semi-final between the two sides in Buenos Aires.
The stats sheets will tell you they had plenty of opportunities. They had more than half of the share of possession and territory in both halves – though curiously, some sheets suggest the Crusaders had slightly more in the second half. And obviously, there were a number of missed opportunities to score tries.
And that’s the thing; even playing all the rugby on the night, the Jaguares still couldn’t prevail.
The Crusaders made 40 per cent more tackles, but the best the Jaguares could do was fluff opportunities. Even when they did manage the break the front line, the Crusaders’ back-field scramble was still good enough to prevent the scoreboard moving.
That’s where the maiden title dream for the Jaguares disappeared.
Richie Mo’unga’s penalty right on halftime pushed the score out to 10-3 at the break, and that was a pretty reasonable reflection to that point in the game. The Jaguares were certainly asking questions of the Crusaders’ backs in defence, and this was probably the only aspect in which Ryan Crotty absence was somewhat noticeable.
But seven points behind at half time was about where the Jaguares sat.
This is hardly an earth-shattering revelation, but the Jaguares really did have to be the first team to score in the second half to try and swing the momentum in the game.
That they managed to survive the ten minutes immediately following the restart was miraculous, with the Crusaders clearly upping the defensive intensity and their line speed as well. The Jaguares had plenty of ball in this time but lost plenty of ground while holding it.
And this gave way to the 20 minutes where their maiden title dream slipped away.
From around the 48-minute mark, all that lost ground came to bear for the Jaguares, when they lost possession as well, now giving the Crusaders the chance to press home their sudden territorial advantage with the ball now as well. After attacking with their defence for nearly ten minutes, the Crusaders now had the pill.
There was a huge effort in scrambling defence from the Argentineans, too, somehow managing to stop Brayden Ennor, but the penalty advantages Jaco Peyper was happy to pay were having an impact.
Close to the line, Mo’unga gave it the old ‘I’m not kicking for the line, sir’, made it look like he was, but took a quick tap before passing to his captain Sam Whitelock, who was standing with his forwards behind Mo’unga.
The Jaguares were right in assuming the Crusaders would be looking for a pushover try from a maul; what they didn’t see coming was it would happen from general play. The Crusaders maul easily got over the line, and Matt Todd’s extra diving effort was going to be the cherry on top, only for a Jaguares leg to somehow and desperately end up under the ball.
No try, but the Jaguares were rattled.
Mo’unga potted another penalty to push the lead out to ten points with 26 minutes to play, and the Jaguares’ panic levels were showing signs. They too had chances to take points in the first half but didn’t, just as the Crusaders hadn’t for most of the year. Up to Round 14, Mo’unga had kicked only four penalties from five attempts.
But from Round 15, they knew points were going to be crucial in the finals and started taking more of them; four from five attempts over the next few games, and four from four in the quarter- and semi-finals wins. All in all, the Crusaders kicked 18 penalties from 20 attempts in 2019, but 13 from 13 came from Round 15 onwards.
Again, the Crusaders lifted the defensive intensity, and the unforced errors for the Jaguares started mounting. Joaquin Diaz Bonilla’s kicking was rarely finding its mark, and where in the first half centres Jeronimo De La Fuente and Matias Orlando were prominent, Diaz Bonilla’s second-half struggles left them out of view.
Marcos Kremer was pinged for being offside at the maul; Mo’unga pushed the lead out the 13 with his sixteenth straight kick of the finals.
And with their desperation to claw back into the contest now reaching new heights, the Jaguares’ last chances were dashed by yet more unforced errors.
From a lineout 15 metres from the Crusaders’ line, they carefully drew defenders into the contest in midfield, found space when they went wide, but then knocked the inside pass on.
From another lineout drive in 67th minute, they pick and drove for a couple of phases to make ground, but then lost it and the ball when a Felipe Ezcurra pass went to no-one.
From there, it was all Crusaders. They were scrumming for penalties because they could. Mo’unga made it 19-3 with five to play, but the Crusaders controlled the last ten minutes of the final like a side who’d been there and done that every two or three seasons since the dawn of the competition.
There was no shame in the Jaguares losing the closest Super Rugby final ever, though the pain of losing a game on the back of playing so much rugby but making so many errors will sting right through until next February.
It will be up to them to determine if the fairytale has another chapter to write.