Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga fired behind a dominant pack while Lions pivot Elton Jantjies bowed to the pressure in the Super Rugby final in Christchurch, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Crusaders beat the Lions 37-18 on Saturday to claim their ninth Super Rugby title. The win, like most of the Cantabrians’ victories this season, was built on a commanding forward performance as well as a gargantuan defensive effort.
Mo’unga was named Man of the Match, and deservedly so. Indeed, the difference between the Crusaders and the Lions in the initial stages of this final was the hosts’ ability to convert forward dominance into points. The visitors, by contrast, spurned opportunity after opportunity through poor decision-making and shocking handling.
The stats highlight the fact that Mo’unga took some excellent attacking options. The Crusaders flyhalf beat four defenders, made one linebreak and made 51m overall.
Mo’unga completed 18 passes, but also kept the Lions under pressure via an accurate tactical-kicking performance. He finished with a personal tally of 17 points, and was given a standing ovation by the Christchurch faithful when he left the field after 76 minutes.
Credit should go to the Crusaders forwards for the way they fronted up at the set pieces. The manner in which they stopped the Lions’ maul – the source of so many Lions tries in 2018 – was game-shaping.
The Crusaders defence, however, was a class apart. The hosts finished with an 86% tackle success rate, which is some feat considering they completed 180 tackles.
The back row was influential in this department, with Matt Todd (22 tackles), Kieran Read (19) and Heiden Bedwell Curtis (12) all putting in a big shift.
The Lions made 115 tackles, missed 25, and finished the game with an 82% success rate. Franco Mostert (19) produced a typically superhuman performance. The visiting back row, however, let the side down. Kwagga Smith made only five tackles. He missed five too.
When the Lions got the upper hand, the backs struggled to capitalise. And when the visitors were under pressure, players like Jantjies exacerbated the situation with some horrendous decision-making.
‘This is Elton Jantjies at his worst,’ former All Blacks scrumhalf Justin Marshall said on commentary after another mistake by the Lions No 10. Indeed, Jantjies’ inability to get his backs over the gainline as well as his wayward tactical kicking proved costly on the night.
Jantjies made just 4m with ball in hand, a stat that highlights his tendency to pass rather than run as well as his position – way, way back – behind the gainline. He was a defensive liability as well, missing three of his five tackle attempts.
The Crusaders carried less and kicked more in the first stanza. They went to the break with a 20-6 lead, having spent as much as 30% of the half in the Lions’ 22.
The hosts shifted gears after the break, but still managed to finish the game with 74% of the territory. They kicked less during this period and even lost a man to the sin bin, but still outscored the Lions 17-12 in the second stanza.
The Crusaders defence had the final say in the game, winning a turnover to deny the Lions a consolation score. It’s fitting that the Crusaders finished in this manner, as they have dominated on defence for much of the past two seasons.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images