The Crusaders put on a masterclass in playoff rugby as they defeated the Chiefs 27-13 at AMI Stadium in Christchurch to reach their record 12th Super Rugby final and first since 2014.
The seven-time champions outscored their fellow Kiwis, four tries to one with Seta Tamanivalu scoring a second-half double to go with Bryn Hall and Israel Dagg’s tries as Scott Robertson’s men outclassed the Waikato team.
The Chiefs had won four of the previous five encounters and had beaten their opponents in back-to-back semi-finals in 2012 and 2013, however, the Crusaders had never lost a home playoff fixture, and they continued that run.
Brodie Retallick scored a late try for his side but it was of little consequence. Going into the last 15 minutes, the Crusaders had just 28 percent possession and 25 percent territory, spent only a minute inside the Chiefs’ 22, while the visitors had spent over five minutes – crazy.
The home team’s defence was superb, making 143 of 172 tackles at 83 percent success rate. Conversely, Dave Rennie’s side made 47 of 57 tackles, showing just how dominant his team were, but they just lost the most important statistic: the scoreboard.
The home team raced to a 10-0 lead inside the opening quarter. Richie Mo’unga’s 14th-minute penalty was followed by Hall’s five-pointer.
It started inside their half with Dagg beginning the counter-attack. Ryan Crotty beat two tacklers before offloading back to the wing. Dagg raced forward, drew Tim Nanai-Williams and gave the ball to the scrum-half, who sped clear for the game’s first try.
Mo’unga’s conversion made it an early two-score game. Nanai-Williams thought he had scored a couple of minutes later, but TMO Glenn Newman decided that the ball was lost forward in the grounding and the try did not stand.
Damian McKenzie, who has played every minute of every game this season, kicked two penalties to reduce the deficit to four at the break.
The entire half was dominated by the visitors but they just could not finish, making silly errors and choosing the wrong options.
With a minute to go before half-time, they butchered a six on two when it seemed easier to score.
The Chiefs started well in the second period, but again, they did not take their chances. Instead, with their first opportunity – as with Hall’s try – the Crusaders scored.
James Lowe attempted to clear from near his goal-line, but Mo’unga, trying to tackle the wing, accidentally knocked the ball back as Lowe tried to kick and Dagg gathered the loose ball and scored a very lucky try.
Next on the sheet was Tamanivalu, who crossed for his first of the game.
The winger powered through Charlie Ngatai and Nanai-Williams with an angled run from near the sideline.Tawera Kerr-Barlow could stop the winger and after Mo’unga’s conversion made it 22-6, there was no way back for the Chiefs.
With seven minutes remaining, Tamanivalu got his double after scoring in the corner. The TMO checked for grounding but the finish was immaculate.
There was still time for Retallick to cross the whitewash, but it was too little, too late as the competition’s most successful franchise booked their place in another final.
Final Score: Crusaders 27 (10) Chiefs 13 (6)
Tries – Hall, Dagg, Tamanivalu (2)
Pen – Mo’unga
Con – Mo’unga (2)
Tries – Retallick
Pen – McKenzie (2)
Con – McKenzie
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1: Angus Gardner
Assistant Ref 2: Ben O’Keeffe
TMO: Glenn Newman
15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge.
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mitchell Brown, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson