CHRISTCHURCH – The Crusaders confirmed a Super Rugby final against the Jaguares with a 30-26 victory in a bruising cliff-hanger semi-final against the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Saturday.
It extended the nine-time champion Crusaders’ unbeaten home record to 30, although twice in the second half the Hurricanes closed within one point and threatened a boilover.
The Jaguares had earlier qualified for the final for the first time when they swamped the Brumbies 39-7 in Buenos Aires.
The Crusaders led 13-0 after 39 minutes, before a dramatic turn in the game when the Hurricanes dropped their kicking plan and took to running the ball.
They scored just on halftime, and immediately after the resumption to close within one point.
But every time they touched down, the Crusaders responded, and opened up a four-point gap at the end with a Richie Mo’unga penalty.
“Both teams really deserved to win that,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said.
“It had Test-match intensity.”
Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock was concerned with how many of his side would be available for next week’s final.
“There are some sore bodies, guys already have ice and some with slings,” he said.
Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles said his side fought hard.
“In the first half they started really well, but we absorbed the pressure and started really well in the second half.”
In the crucial battle of the flyhalves, it was Mo’unga who controlled the game in the first half with his options of whether to run or kick.
Beauden Barrett’s kicking game was erratic at first, but when he adopted a running game after the break, it snapped the Hurricanes into effective action.
From being guilty of kicking away too much possession which the Crusaders were only too happy to run back at them in the first half, the Hurricanes ran hard in the second, and stretched the Crusaders defence.
The Crusaders were first on the board with a Mo’unga penalty, before Sevu Reece scored the opening try after George Bridge won possession in an aerial contest with Jonah Lowe.
In the shadow of halftime, the Hurricanes made a sustained attack with the ball, ignited by a 40-metre run from Jordie Barrett, which ended with the powerful Ngani Laumape forcing his way over the line.
The Hurricanes made an explosive start to the second half, with a Matt Proctor break sending Ben Lam over in the corner.
From the restart the Crusaders struck back immediately, when a wayward Hurricanes clearing kick saw Mo’unga mount a counter-attack, which he was on hand to finish and convert.
The Hurricanes wasted no time with their reply when Laumape kicked a loose ball into open territory, and was quick enough to recover possession and score.