The Crusaders beat the Chiefs 24-13 in a pulsating Super Rugby Aotearoa Final at a raucous Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.
The Crusaders successfully defended their Super Rugby Aotearoa title, while making it five Super Rugby titles in a row, with another clinical display in the ‘big game’.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Scott Robertson’s men, once again, won a tight contest against the odds due to his side’s superior coaching, and penchant for winning finals rugby.
The defending champions had never lost a knock-out, playoff, or final in Christchurch in 24 matches – simply stunning.
And despite a spirited Chiefs performance, Robertson’s side made it 25 unbeaten on the trot, seven home Super Rugby finals.
The Chiefs, who had only won two of their previous eight finals matches, fell at the final hurdle again.
The Hamilton franchise had won five games in a row to set up a first final since 2013. Even more remarkable was that the Waikato side had come off a record-equaling 11-game losing streak.
Super Rugby Aotearoa Final Video Highlights: Crusaders versus Chiefs at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
But the defending champs had too much experience, too much savvy in games of this magnitude.
The Crusaders out-scored their opponents two tries to one, but it was the boots of their playmakers that made the difference, that and the Chiefs not taking advantage of two second-half yellow cards.
Sevu Reece and Will Jordan both crossed for the hosts, while Damian McKenzie dotted down for the visitor’s only try.
McKenzie scored all his team’s points, but a rare off day from the tee proved costly. McKenzie missed three penalties in the space of 15 minutes, either side of halftime.
Conversely, Richie Mo’unga took control of the game, kicking 16 points as the champions pulled away.
Codie Taylor and Reece were both sent to the naughty step – five minutes apart – for dangerous tackles with the scores locked at 15-10.
The Chiefs failed to take advantage, scoring only three points when the opposition had 13 and 14 men; Clayton McMillan’s men only scored three after the interval.
The Crusaders did what they always do: take their chances, squeeze the opposition, and punish mistakes with points.
Both teams came out firing from the outset in a thrilling first stanza
The Crusaders led 15-10 after a scintillating first half, which saw three sublime tries between the teams.
Reece opened the scoring in the corner, beating McKenzie before reaching out to put the ball on the chalk. Mo’unga converted, but McKenzie’s 15th-minute penalty put the visitors on the scoreboard.
Jordan scored after the restart. The fullback latched onto a well-weighted David Havili grubber, beating McKenzie to the bouncing ball to make it 12-3.
McKenzie – involved in both Saders’ scores, got in on the action when he scored and converted on 22 minutes.
A 12-man Chiefs’ lineout on the opposition’s 5m went nowhere; however, the ball got recycled to Alex Nankivell, who ran at Jordan.
Nankivell flicked an audacious out-the-back-door offload, in the tackle, to send McKenzie away in the corner.
The fullback, who earlier brought up 100 Super Rugby Aotearoa points for the season, converted from the corner.
Mo’unga kicked a penalty three minutes before the break to extend, while McKenzie missed a chance to cut the gap back to two points when he pulled his penalty wide after the hooter.
Chiefs dominate the second half but cannot take their opportunities as McKenzie continues to miss from the tee
McKenzie missed another shot at goal soon after the restart, but the visitors continued to put the home side under pressure, forcing Scott Roberton’s men into errors.
Codie Taylor flipped McKenzie with a tackle in the air after the 26-year-old playmaker won an overthrown lineout at the gain line.
Up stepped McKenzie, and again, for the third time in a row, he missed a relative gimme, which kept the score at 15-10 after 14 minutes of the second stanza.
By now, the chiefs had all the momentum, they just could not take their opportunities (missed kicks did not help).
However, more ill-discipline by the home team saw Reece yellow carded after another Captain’s Referal for a reckless high tackle on Chase Tiatia.
The penalty gave McKenzie another chance to reduce the gap to 15-13 on the hour, this time he made no mistake.
McMillan’s side let the opposition off the hook despite playing with an extra man, and they pay the price
Taylor’s return meant the Chiefs only scored three points while he and Reece were off at the same time.
It proved costly because Mo’unga slotted his first-ever drop-goal to restore his side’s five-point lead.
In fact, the Chiefs did not re-enter the Crusaders’ 22 since Reece’s yellow card, and they only managed three points during the Saders two sin-bins.
And just like always, the Crusaders began to squeeze their opponents, making them pay for their profligacy.
Mo’unga knocked over two more penalties to give his side an 11-point lead with four minutes to play – it was too much for the Chiefs to overturn.
Once again, we got to see Robertson’s sensational breakdancing, with his charges cheering him on with a Champagne shower.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Final Score: Crusaders 24 (15) Chiefs 13 (10)
Tries – Reece, Jordan
Pen – Mo’unga (3)
Con – Mo’unga
Drop – Mo’unga
Cards – Taylor (Yellow, 54′), Reece (Yellow, 58′)
Tries – McKenzie
Pen – McKenzie (2)
Con – Mckenzie
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 1: James Doleman
Assistant Ref 2: Paul Williams
TMO: Brendon Pickerill
15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Tom Sanders, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Dallas McLeod, 23 Braydon Ennor
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Pita Gus Sowakula, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Zane Kapeli, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Rameka Poihipi, 23 Chase Tiatia