In all sense and purpose, last nights victory by the Crusaders over the Lions, has regained a ‘lost supremacy’ for one team. By claiming the championship, fans saw the Crusaders crowned Super Rugby Champions for a record eighth time.
And that record was one which had taken a term to add to. Not since 2008, had the Christchurch side hold up a trophy. But when Sam Whitelock lifted the Super Rugby silverware, he was lifting his team; and franchise, out of a long period of missed opportunity.
The smiles on players faces yesterday, were formed with the base of others hard work. Men who went before them. The early sides, the Robbie Deans era, and the Richie McCaw years. Although, even that warrior was denied on a number of occasions–but one can only imagine the smile on his, and former Crusaders players and managements faces last night, after the Return of the Kings!
2017 Vintage Built on Earlier Crusaders Teams Efforts
2009-2016 saw this proud team earn several finals berths, yet fail to turn those into championships. But with the 17-25 victory, the side proved two points:
- the Crusaders are the most powerful side in Super Rugby history
- for only the second time, an away team has won the title on foreign soil
Those feats, on top of the 14-1 regular season record, could be seen as the very best. Possibly topping the 2002 vintage, who went undefeated. With the Super 18 format that the Scott Robertson team have endured, the extra games mean plenty. Traveling around the world, to play in South Africa, Australia and Fiji, their quest to regain the lost crown was monumental.
The fixture list is difficult enough, but it was one that new captain Sam Whitelock and his team embraced. They made a habit of ‘winning tough’ early, but became a formidable entity by May. With the International break, it in fact broke their winning-edge. but after losses to the touring British and Irish Lions and the 2016 champion Hurricanes, they brought the Crusaders effort back on course.
And saw them reach the 12th final, and display their pedigree for the rugby world to see.
What will be remembered from this match are a handful of moments. Any grand final is an occasion for big name players to turn it on! And 2017 was no different.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Ryan Crotty
It’s true, he is probably the most classy center in Super Rugby. A quality distributor, handy with ball in hand but known for his organization, as much as his ability to break the line.
If any one player was saluted for the Lions, it would be Franco Mostert. The power-forward saved a try by running back in defense. That alone was a superb play, but his 12 carries, 35 meters and two defenders beaten must be recognized.
KEY MOMENT – Crusaders Third Try
Just after the start of the second half, is always a pivotal moment. Some say, who takes charge then, can control the match outcome. That proved true, where a ploy used widely in Super Rugby 2017 – the cross-field kick – proved it’s value.
Recycling the ball after a ruck, Kieran Read popped a perfact-pass, and David Havili showed his class. It was an enormous moment, one that quality sides can instrument. And the leading New Zealand conference team drew on the confidence booster.
At 3-22, the crowd were hushed. But credit to the Johan Ackermann (see below) coached Lions, who broke back in the final quarter. Too little too late to be honest, but it certainly gave an edge to the final ten minutes.
Note: the red card incident follows through on moments during the 2016 season. Protecting the player in the air, is now a fundamental task when chasing a high kick. Even one-eyed NZ rugby fans will have gulped at the referee’s call, but it was possibly the safest one–to protect the game, and to show the South African ref was fair and balanced.
Lions Head Coach Can be Proud of his Term
In his final game, before taking up a coaching role at Gloucester, but he can be proud of his term with the Lions. Five seasons, and developing the team, as well as the franchise. That carried on work by Laurie Mains, John Mitchell and Carlos Spencer.
The type of game played by the Lions is reminiscent of NZ rugby. Fast reactions, wide ball and empowering players to play what is in front of them. Ackermann was able to bring young players through a system; Jantjies, Mostert and Mapoe to name a few. They now occupy places in the Springboks team, so the deserved recognition of the improvement of the Lions, must be described as fantastic.
The South African game will benefit much from hosting a Super Rugby final. After the poor return from the International team late last year, the return to form is critical. That will flow on to The Rugby Championship. Allister Coetzee must build on that confidence, to aim high in 2017.
Scott Robertson Has Made History of His Own
Even while the players on the field take the bumps and bruises, anyone who has seen Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson speak, will know his passion. Sometimes enigmatic, the colourful dialogue used is often a deflection of his determination. Both as a coach [new to the role] but also as a manager.
He knows ‘what buttons to push’. That is a human instinct, one which a former-player can benefit much more from. His coaching group is a mix of coaching tutorial, and motivation plus. They build-in confidence for the players to succeed. A lesson learned from Canterbury and from the All Blacks.
Now, Robertson becomes the first former-player/coach to win a championship. A Crusaders veteran of 86 games, he has had the perfect inception as head coach. Appointed in June 2016, his ability to mold a team has seen the Crusaders crowned Super Rugby champions for a record eighth time.
He also made history online – see above. Probably to only coach in professional rugby whose moves are highlighs on social media. Everyone from SportsCenter, to Sky Sport and sports news departments across the rugby world, who are now enjoying his style of coaching. He ‘busted a move’ post-game that improves his reputation as a laughable, but lovable and very accomplished Super Rugby head coach.
Crusaders Crowned Super Rugby Champions
It might have been a longtime between drinks, but the champagne will taste even sweeter for Crusaders fans. That sides place in Super Rugby, as well as the professional sport, is further embellished. Through the temerity and values of the region–one almost destroyed by an earthquake in 2011–the Crusaders persevere.
Title number eight. Final number 12. The list of records go on, and are all well deserved. Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and all the 23 players will know that their season is extremely well capped-off. It might even have repaired the losses of previous finals.
Israel Dagg spoke of the pain of losing a final, but now he can call himself a Champion. Added to other accomplishments of the All Blacks-laden squad, and many players are on their way to legendary status. Seta Taminivalu, Jack Goodhew and Read will never forget their try scoring deeds, as well as a top class performance from Richie Mo’unga.
A real team effort, that was built upon the previous attempts between 2009-2016. And the crown is now firmly fitted to the Crusaders head, as the most successful team in Super Rugby history.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images