In a momentous challenge from the Hurricanes, the last act of the semifinal saw Sam Whitelock’s ‘big hand’ see the Crusaders secure a home Super Rugby Final.
Pulsating, scintillating, and controversial. The Crusaders will host next weeks Super Rugby final at Orangetheory Stadium, but only after surviving a second-half Hurricanes fightback to win 30-26; somewhat contentiously at the end, through their captain’s big hand.
Sam Whitelock’s act of illegality was missed by referee Nic Berry – who otherwise had a good game – instead ruling a knock-on against TJ Perenara. While undoubtedly a cynical act and probably should have seen Whitelock sent to the bin, it wasn’t reviewable by the TMO.
TJ is rightly fuming. Sam Whitelock getting away with murder#CRUvHUR
— Linebreak Rugby (@LinebreakRugby) June 29, 2019
Time expired during the following scrum, allowing the home side to kick it into touch and move on. Whistle blown, and the Crusaders secured a home Super Rugby final.
45 minutes earlier though, that sort of finish seemed unlikely. At their efficient best, the Crusaders had begun to squeeze the life out of the visitors in the same manner as their comprehensive win at Westpac Stadium earlier in the season. Then a burst of Hurricanes scoring brought the game back to being a real contest.
One worthy of a championship showcase game.
Crusaders win in a ‘Crusaders way’ to secure Super Rugby final berth
The home team opened up 13-0 lead on the back of two Richie Mo’unga penalties, and another well-taken try by outstanding winger Sevu Reece.
Ryan Crotty ➕ Sevu Reece….Yah kidding! ?
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) June 29, 2019
It was one of those classic matches, played in a ‘Crusaders way’ to hold down the visitors until a late first-half try through Ngani Laumape, closed the gap before the break. Holding an advantage still, the second half though was a completely different story.
It took just a minute for the Hurricanes to cross again through Ben Lam, an excellent start. Although, the Crusaders promptly restored matters through Mo’unga. Five minutes later, Laumape latched onto a loose ball and showing great presence of mind, chested the ball onwards ‘football-style’ before grounding for his second to make it 20-19.
Sevu Reece – the nominated Super Rugby ‘Rookie of the Year’ – would match Laumape with his own second touchdown. This one was pure Crusaders, ofloading from Matt Todd to open up space for the Fijian to touch down. That would push their lead out again for the home side.
They looked to be rolling towards overwhelming the visitors before Perenara got the better of the Crusaders defence.
Yakult Try Of The Week ? pic.twitter.com/pFqtAbzB2V
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) June 29, 2019
Celebrating his 127th Super Rugby match in style, Perenara fooled Whetu Douglas into buying his dummy expertly and reached out to score his 54th career try. It brought the scores back to within a single point, and added to the atmosphere.
Mo’unga’s third penalty ensured that the Hurricanes would need a try to win and they pushed downfield for that, only to be denied by Whitelock’s apparent cynical act.
The Crusaders never trailed, but were clearly relieved at the final whistle that they were still ahead.
Hurricanes pressure close to dethroning Crusaders
The key to the Hurricanes second-half revival was an increase in tempo; they pushed the Crusaders out of their accustomed rhythm and put them under a degree of pressure that they were unfamiliar with. But Scott Robertson’s side didn’t panic.
Big match players like Ryan Crotty, and the clutch-player, Richie Mo’unga, showed the mental fortitude that they’re renowned for. Even Whitelock, whose ability to get his hands in the places where it can influence the result, is a team leader on par with any past Crusaders player.
Many of the big names on both sides stood up and were counted:
Mo’unga ensured the debate with Beauden Barrett; as to who’ll start the Rugby Championship in the #10 jersey, will go on
Scott Barrett was immense until his substitution
For much of the game, the midfield duo of Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue had their opponents in check
Perenara and Ardie Savea were again the picks of the Canes side, with their much-maligned scrum at least achieving parity at set-piece.
Ultimately though, the Hurricanes season again ends at the hands of Super Rugby’s most successful side. The format may scupper NZ teams chances to a degree here, as the top sides with highest competition points, had to meet in a semifinal (which will only be corrected in 2021) and not a final.
Winning this tight tussle, the Crusaders will be short odds favourites to add to their recent reign, against the highly confident Jaguares this coming Saturday night.
Crusaders 30 – Tries: Sevu Reece (2), Richie Mo’unga; Conversions: Mo’unga (3); Penalties: Mo’unga (3)
Hurricanes 26 – Tries: Ngani Laumape (2), Ben Lam, TJ Perenara; Cons: Beauden Barrett (3).
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images