Super Rugby

Grace with a brace as Crusaders scalp Chiefs




Crusaders beat Chiefs 20-7 in the first Super Rugby Pacific semi-final at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.

Cullen Grace bagged a brace as the Crusaders booked their place in yet another Super Rugby final after scalping the Chiefs in the Garden City.

The Crusaders confirmed a record 15th Super Rugby final after repelling the wasteful Chiefs in terrible conditions in Canterbury.

This was another playoff masterclass from the tournament’s most illustrious team.

The Chiefs dominated territory and possession. They could not breach the stout-hearted but ill-disciplined Crusaders.

The penalties flowed as the home team infringed throughout, but the Hamilton side could not take advantage.

The hosts played with 14 men on two separate occasions adding up to half an hour.

Scott Barrett lauded his team’s defensive effort after the game echoing the famous line about defence winning championships by saying “playoff footy is won on defence”. He is not wrong.

The Crusaders made a Super Rugby record of 222 tackles in the match, edging out their previous best of 220 versus the same Kiwi opposition.

Scott Robertson and Jason Ryan accomplish the unthinkable as they reach a remarkable 6th Super Rugby final

Scott Robertson and Jason Ryan’s 100th Crusaders game in charge ended as most usually do: in victory.

The duo, who took over in 2017, have an incredible record as head coach and assistant HC of the tournament’s most successful franchise.

Their unbelievable record reads: played 100, won 85 games, lost 13 times, two draws. Phenomenal.

This will be the coaching duo’s six Super Rugby final (3 Super Rugby, 2 Super Rugby Aotearoa,1 Super Rugby Pacific) in as many years.

Clayton McMillan’s men went into the New Zealand derby as underdogs despite beating the Canterbury men 24-21 back in March.

But too many errors and turnovers contributed to a missed opportunity at a shot at a third title.

The Crusaders – who are unbeaten in knockout/playoff/finals matches at home in Super Rugby since the competition’s inception back in 1996 – continued their winning streak.

The Saders were 26 from 26 (100% win rate) in Christchurch, and despite playing for half an hour with 14 men, made it 27 wins in a row on home turf.

Conversely, the wasteful Chiefs – who had only won two of their 11 previous away Super Rugby finals games –  could not take their chances.

Grace’s first-half double gave the 10-time champions a commanding 20-7 lead in wet and windy conditions.

Richie Mo’unga has another superb game at first receiver slotted all four first stanza attempts at goal.

Mo’unga landed two penalties and conversions apiece (10 pts). He also kickstarted the attack that led to Grace’s first try and assisted for the flanker’s second.

Angus Ta’avao crashed over for his team’s only try, which Bryn Gatland converted. Those were the only points for the blunt Chiefs.

Mo’unga missed a late shot at goal in a scoreless but engrossing second half as the Crusaders made history.

The clinical Crusaders punished the wasteful Chiefs as Grace crossed twice in the first stanza

The visitors spent almost seven minutes inside their host’s 22, but could only muster a converted try.

Pablo Matera’s two first-half yellow cards (20′ and 32′) saw the Argentina player red-carded before the break.

Mo’unga added two penalties on either side of Quinn Tupaea’s eighth-minute yellow card.

Matera slipped into the Tupaea’s high tackle and probably should have left the field for an HIA.

The Chiefs should have scored moments later, but good defending coupled with poor finishing kept the score at 6-0.

Sevu Reece dislodged the ball from Pita Gus Sowakula’s hands as the number eight tried to dot down over the line.

It was poor from Sowakula, who should have scored.

Oli Jager conceded a penalty that lead to a 10-minute spell spent defending inside the home team’s 22.

Referee Nic Berry took a while to go to the pocket as he let the home team infringe at will.

The controversial referee should gave a warning followed by a final, final warning to the frustration of Chiefs captain Brad Weber.

Berry eventually had to use his cards after six penalties near the try line. A series of penalties led to Matera going off.

The momentum shifted with a huge defensive effort leading to Mo’unga setting up Grace’s 12-minute double

Nothing came from all the pressure. Instead, the Saders struck from a counter-attack starting inside their 22 following a turnover committed by Alex Nankivell.

Some superb defending by Robertson’s side kept out the invaders. The Crusaders won back possession through Mo’unga before Reece’s clearance ended with a five-metre scrum to the home side.

It was a massive psychological boost for the hosts, who always punish profligacy.

Grace broke to the blindside and was tackled short by Weber, but he managed to reach out and dot the ball on the chalk.

Mo’unga, with Reece holding the ball because of the heavy wind, slotted the wide conversion to make it 13-0 after 25 minutes.

McMillan’s men struck straight away.

Brodie Retallick won the restart to kickstart an 18-phase attack that ended with Ta’avao putting the visitors on the board.

Gatland, who had a poor day kicking out-of-hand, landed the extras.

Matera received his marching orders after getting another yellow card for a high hit on Gatland just after the half-hour mark.

The 14-man Crusaders did not flinch; they scored again.

Mo’unga beat two defenders before offloading to George Bower, who powered towards the line.

The ball was recycled quickly to Mo’unga, who threw a long cutout pass to Grace, to go in untouched for his second score of the game.

The 28-year-old flyhalf landed the wide conversion to reopen the 13-point advantage as the teams went into the sheds.

The Crusaders’ defence held off a relentless Chiefs’ attacking surge as the tackles mounted in scoreless second-half

The men from the Waikato dominated the second half much as they did the first.

McMillan’s men had all the ball but could not score. An emotional Weber rued his side’s missed opportunities in his post-match interview.

The Crusaders repelled wave after wave of chiefs’ attacks. The home team made more than 200 at a 90% success rate.

This monumental defensive effort effectively won the game. That and the Chiefs’ profligacy in the red zone.

The weather conditions worsened after the break as the teams struggled with their handling.

The Waikato men piled on the pressure, but they could not break the red wall.

As the game entered the final quarter, the Chiefs had spent 12 minutes inside the opposition’s 22 to less than three of the Saders.

Corey Kellow came on for Matera to give Robertson’s side a full quota. Then the Chiefs botched a sure try when Tupaea threw a pass over Nankivell’s head into touch.

Nankivell had a clear path to the try line, but another guilt-edged chance went begging.

The Hamilton men continued to spend most of the half inside the opposition’s 22, but they could not finish.

Chance after chance went begging as the Crusaders made crucial turnovers or capitalised on the visitor’s handling errors.

Mo’unga missed a penalty attempt with 10 minutes remaining after his forwards won a scrum penalty.

It did matter though because the Crusaders saw out the win without any issues.

Final Score: Crusaders 20 (20) Chiefs 7 (7)


Tries – Grace (2)
Pen – Mo’unga (2)
Con – Mo’unga (2)
Drop –
Cards – Matera (Yellow, 20′, 2nd Yellow [Red] 32′)

Tries – Ta’avao
Pen –
Con – Gatland
Drop –
Cards – Tupaea (Yellow, 8′)

Match Officials
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 1: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 2: 
Jordan Way
TMO: Chris Hart


Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Zach Gallagher, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Oli Jager, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.

Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Corey Kellow, 21 Mitch Drummond, 22 Braydon Ennor, 23 George Bridge.

Chiefs: 15 Josh Ioane, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Luke Jacobson, 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.

Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 George Dyer, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Xaiver Roe, 22 Rameka Poihipi, 23 Chase Tiatia.

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