After a thrilling season, the Crusaders have been crowned the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific champions after defeating the Blues 21-7 at a wet and windy Eden Park in Auckland.
The Christchurch side becomes the first winners of the new style Super Rugby tournament and, having won the three previous editions of Super Rugby before 2019, they are now 11-times Super Rugby champions.
Blues Struggle from the Get-Go
Despite home advantage and going into the final on a 15-match winning streak, the Blues struggled to get on the front foot in the game due to a dominant display from the Crusaders.
The visitors led 13-0 at half-time courtesy of a Richie Mo’unga drop goal and penalty and a converted try from scrum-half Bryn Hall. The match had been dubbed a battle of the 10s as Mo’unga went head to head with Beauden Barrett, and the Crusaders fly-half put in a flawless performance while Barrett struggled to stamp his authority on the match.
Mo’unga extended the Crusaders’ lead in the second half with a penalty before scrum-half Finlay Christie gave the Blues a flicker of a chance with a try in the 59th minute that Stephen Perofeta converted. The try galvanised the Blues, who were looking to win their first Super Rugby title since 2003 and roared on by a home crowd, they applied plenty of pressure, but the Crusaders’ defence held firm.
And with the clock ticking down, Crusaders winger Sevu Reece pounced on a defensive mistake by the Blues to score a late try and put the icing on a dominant victory.
Crusaders target the lineout
The Blues may have a backline full of attacking talent, but if they don’t have the ball, then it’s going to be hard for them to create any scoring chances. And stifling the ball is exactly what the Crusaders did at Eden Park by targeting the line out.
The Blues line out was perceived as one of their strengths, but the Crusaders targeted it in devastating style – finishing with nine lineout steals, six of them in the first half alone. An aggressive attack was the Crusaders’ game plan on the Blues’ lineout, putting up two pods of players in an attempt to win every aerial battle. They were so confident that they did this five metres from their own line. The Crusaders know what it takes to win a Super Rugby Final and by not allowing the Blues to play the way they wanted to play, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Ending the season with a 15-2 record is a measure of how impressive the Blues have been this season, but coach Leon MacDonald knows there is still work to be done if they are to go one step further next season.