There was never much doubt that the Crusaders would add Super Rugby title number nine to their collection with a win over the travel-weary Lions at their fortress tonight, but the way they did it, and the performance of their brilliant No10 Richie Mo‘unga, took the breath away at times.
Mo‘unga, might, as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen quipped during the week, be playing behind a Rolls Royce pack, but his was truly a Formula One-type effort.
The 24-year-old was incredible, a player on a different level to anyone else on the pitch, and this felt like a breakthrough performance, even despite the way he played against the Hurricanes last weekend.
He has played only one test – as a substitute against France in Dunedin in June – but there can‘t be many better No10s in the world at the moment. Someone here at a cold but increasingly ebullient AMI Stadium said it was like watching a young Dan Carter at the start of his career. It was and most among the capacity 19,500 crowd would have felt privileged to have seen it.
The poor Lions were always going to be up against it after arriving in Christchurch in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Their only chance was if their lineout drive and scrum could make inroads and neither could; the Crusaders pack driving the visitors back time and again with a cold ruthlessness bordering on cruelty.
And yet, from being down 20-6 at halftime, the men from Johannesburg gave nearly as good as they got after the break and, with the Crusaders a man down for 10 minutes due to Ryan Crotty‘s sinbinning, the home side needed to dig deep in order to make it safe. It made for a true contest and the spectacle was far better for it.
Coach Scott Robertson celebrates with a breakdance following the Crusaders win over the Lions. Footage from Sky.
Scott Robertson‘s mantra during the week was for his team to work harder for longer than the opposition and here was proof positive.
The Lions couldn‘t settle and play the game at their own pace and so were at a disadvantage almost straight away. Throw in a masterclass from Mo‘unga, who set up Seta Tamanivalu‘s try with a long, floating pass and made the catch and run up the middle to pave the way for David Havili‘s, and kicked everything presented to him, and the Lions were in big trouble by halftime.
There was a reply from the Lions after halftime via Cyle Brink‘s try – a rare defensive lapse from the Crusaders, but the home side responded with a ridiculously good try to replacement halfback Mitchell Drummond. Almost inevitably, the man Mo‘unga was involved in the build-up twice, the second time when bursting through a non-existent gap with footwork and deceptive strength.
Crotty‘s yellow card for kicking the ball out of a Lions ruck, combined with a try to impressive hooker Malcom Marx, would have made for a slightly nervy time for Robertson as the score was narrowed to 30-18 but a try for Scott Barrett following another sweeping move from their own half made it safe.
The Crusaders are champions yet again and deservedly so. Cue the “back-to-back” chants and the breakdancing from their remarkable head coach. What price for another title next year?
Crusaders 37 (Seta Tamanivalu, David Havili, Mitchell Drummond, Scott Barrett tries; Richie Mo‘unga 3 pens, 4 cons)
Lions 18 (Cyle Brink, Malcolm Marx tries; Elton Jantjies 2 pens, con)