Crusaders held in high esteem as 2018 Super Rugby Champions

Crusaders held in high esteem as 2018 Super Rugby Champions

After yet another title – their ninth in fact – the Crusaders are held in high esteem, as your 2018 Super Rugby Champions, after withstanding the Lions challenge.

Crusaders 37 – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, David Havili, Mitchell Drummond, Scott Barrett; Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (4); Penalties: Mo’unga (3)

Lions 18 – Tries: Cyle Brink, Malcolm Marx; Cons: Elton Jantjies; Penalties: Jantjies (2)

After going unbeaten in 14 straight matches, the hosts invited the Lions to challenge them. That was how the visitors played it [to begin with]. The South African team went to their favoured tactic; the drive from a lineout. On repeated occasions to open with, the Crusaders had to set themselves, to defend the rolling maul.

It was this use of a strategic tactic, but also their failing to alter their gameplan, where the visitors were not successful. Their history of scoring from the lineout gave them a false sense of confidence. And for all the territorial advantage, for all the possession, they were not rewarded – only a kickable penalty within the opening 13 minutes.

Conversely, the Crusaders spread the ball from their lineout. They went left and right, before a break from Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (replacement for Jordan Taufua) would allow Seta Taminivalu to cross in the corner.

Crusaders held in high esteem as 2018 Super Rugby Champions

That was just one example of the difference in team dynamics. The Lions had strategies, tactics and combinations to play. The Crusaders on the other hand, have men who can adapt, inspire and believe in one another.

Not that the Lions were unworthy – they had rightly earned their position, but the ‘rugby by numbers’ approach was not working. After they had exhausted all tactics employed within the opening quarter, first five Elton Jantjies decided to use the high ball.

That was poorly executed. Their lineout drive was being battered away, and then their hands let them down. In comparison, Richie Mo’unga received a kick, and booted it all the way to the Lions goal line, but….it did not ‘cross the line’. When Jantjies went to touch it in-goal, he effectively created an Crusaders free kick. And his team mates heads sank.

Those moments were going the way of the home team, and then second try of the first half only demonstrated how Mou’unga could inspire in the same way that great fly halfs tend to.

2018 Team full of new Champions

The number 10 caught the high ball, continued running and passed to Jack Goodhue. One phase later, David Havili scored. Simple catch and pass, but it was a play with skill and forsight. No wonder backs assistant coach Ronan O’Gara is name-dropping Mo’unga as a star.

Havili, Goodhue, Bedwell-Curtis, George Bridge, Bryn Hall, Tim Perry and many of the younger names, will all be super confident after last night. As a team, they absorbed pressure, counter attacked and showed that they have the composure that former championship winning teams and players had. They were structured in their defence; with the crowd chanting “DEFENCE, DEFENCE!”

It held up until Cyle Brink barged his way through, after multiple phases and the visitors had crossed the line for the first time. That gave a few scattered Lions fans hope – but they were outmatched, just like the players on the field. No sooner had the score narrowed to 23-13, then the width and continuity play forced the Crusaders into good field position.

Soon enough, Matt Todd received the ball, gave a single-handed offload to the ever reliable Codie Taylor. He shared to the invaluable Mitch Drummond to score, and….. BOOM!

The reply though, came just minutes later. Ryan Crotty earned a yellow card for cynical play, and his personal foul gave the human-bulldozer of Malcolm Marx a sniff of the line. His strike rate is phenomenal, and he looked to have inspired a possible South African responce.

Of note: Marx, along with Ruan Combrinck and Franco Mostert were the pick of their team. They constantly showed their quality, and the late introduction of super-sub Aphiwe Dyantyi just wasn’t able to make a big enough dent in the Crusaders armour, to respond well enough.

The 2018 Crusaders Dynasty

Marx’s try though, was not the change Lions fans could dream of. Ending the match with a final try for lock Scott Barrett [with only 14 men], it epitomized how strong the 2018 Super Rugby Champions are. While a wealth of All Blacks filled both the pack and backline, the culture and organization are the ideal professional rugby environment to invigorate a dynasty.

Examples can be found across the field, of how this group are influencing a return of the Crusaders dynasty. Not that the franchise has ever stopped from being high performers; the team have continually finished at the top of the New Zealand conference, and/or reached the Super Rugby playoffs. What they did do yesterday though, was finish ‘off the job’.

Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock celebrates following the Super Rugby Final. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

It took Sam Whitelock multiple attempts to claim a Super Rugby title. And now, after being a key member of back-to-back Rugby World Cup winning squads, he is now an back-to-back senior leader of the Crusaders. And while he was not running meters or forcing turnovers, his role is to bring the group together. So every time the Lions sensed they had a chance to reign in the hosts, the 2018 Super Rugby Champions just changed gear, and sped away.

It was a display that will be a catalyst for others to place the Christchurch-based side on a par with the likes of Leinster, Real Madrid and the Golden State Warriors. Multi-time champions and a side that others want to emulate.

The respect gained by the 2017 and 2018 victories is almost a validation that the nine-time champions are once again a force to be reckoned with.

Head Coach receives Standing Ovation

At AMI Stadium, the small yet ‘cosy’ stadium is a throw back to the old days. Not an enclosed space, but four seated areas – two semi-covered, two not. It has few thrills to speak of, and brings the spectators into close contact with fellow fans and some major stakeholders.

At the top of the South Stand, is the coaches boxes and enclosed commentators box. It means that before and after the game, opposition and home coaches walk up to their position. Some are noticed….none more noticeable, as Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson. His lock of blonde surfer-dude hair, a way for others to distinguish him.

But on Saturday night, scott robertson was the honoured center of attention.

Head Coach Scott Robertson of the Crusaders (C) greets fans on his way to the coaches box prior to the Super Rugby Final match between the Crusaders and the Lions at AMI Stadium on August 4, 2018 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Walking up with his fellow coaching group, the whole South Stand were drawn to him, and gave Robertson a standing ovation. It was not due to celebrity – he is not a TV star or a musician – but due to his high regard. The ‘razor affect’ is quickly helping this version of the Crusaders to be held in high esteem, as now the 2018 Super Rugby Champions.

A charismatic leader, he is supported well by Brad Mooar, Jason Ryan and O’Gara. The direction and environment means that he is approachable, fair, honest yet, can make the tough calls. Leaving 200-cap Wyatt Crockett off the team sheet was a call on form, which was both emotional and professional in it’s appropriateness.

Similar examples are made on and off the field, as the Crusaders are proven leaders. The 2018 Super Rugby Champions will see their accomplishments as reward for this year, as much as for the hard work that former coach Todd Blackadder put in.

And now, the aim of Whitelock and Robertson maybe on an possible ‘three-peat’ in 2019.


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