The Lions were worthy finalists, they fought hard and bravely, but they weren’t good enough to beat the best team in Super Rugby history.
After a pulsating 80 minutes of the final in Christchurch, the Crusaders picked up their ninth title, while it was a third straight loss in the final for the Lions. They also went down in the 2016 and 2017 finals, to the Hurricanes and Crusaders respectively.
Swys de Bruin’s team enjoyed the majority of possession and territory at AMI Stadium and asked plenty of questions of the Crusaders, but the home team’s defence was just too good. They repelled most of the attacking threats in the Lions team, and when they were on the front foot they struck with precision, pace and force.
In the end the Crusaders out-scored their opponents four tries to two and were deserved winners.
The Lions will rue several good chances that they weren’t able to convert, while the Crusaders made the most of the little ball that came their way.
Captain Warren Whiteley could hardly contain his emotions afterwards, telling a television reporter: “I’m immensely proud of the guys. I’m gutted, I’m emotional.
“We gave it everything ... we threw everything at the Crusaders and they stopped us. It’s been unbelievable, thank you to our fans, wives, girlfriends, family. We’ve been blessed.”
Elton Jantjies got the scoreboard rolling in the 12th minute with a penalty after his side had dominated the early stages, but got no reward for their efforts. But it was soon 3-3 after a Richie Mo’unga penalty and before the Lions could regroup the home team had gone 10-3 up after a converted try by Seta Tamanivalu, who finished off in the corner after some slick handling by his inside players.
Another Mo’unga penalty and a 34th minute try by David Havili, after an excellent counter-attack from deep by the Crusaders, saw the champions go 20-3 up. A late first half penalty by the Lions was academic.
And while the Lions again took charge of the match at the start of the second half, as they’d done at the beginning of the match, it was the Crusaders who struck the first points, via Mo’unga’s boot.
Everything the Lions threw at their hosts was dealt with by the Crusaders – the driving mauls, the scrums, Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith. They plugged every hole around the fringes and swarmed the rucks and mauls.
Cyle Brink though did find a gap in the 53rd minute to score a deserved try for his team, but 10 minutes later Mitchell Drummond got his team’s third try after a clinical build-up to help them into a 30-18 lead. With less than 20 minutes to go it was pretty much all over for the Lions, who couldn’t break down the most organised team in the competition.
Marx though, his team’s highest try-scorer this season, did get over in the 68th minute to reduce the deficit – when the Crusaders were down to 14 men following the yellow carding of Ryan Crotty – but the Crusaders again hit back with a swift attacking play; lock Scott Barrett going over under the posts.
Defence won the Crusaders the title, but the Lions will feel they had a great chance, but didn’t make the most of the ball that came their way.
Crusaders (20) 37
Tries: Tamanivalu, Havili, Drummond, Barrett; Conversions: Mo’unga (4); Penalties: Mo’unga (3)
Lions (6) 18
Tries: Brink, Marx; Conversion: Jantjies; Penalties Jantjies (2)