4 Aug 2018

Ruthless Crusaders too strong for Lions

9:51 pm on 4 August 2018

Too gritty, too patient and far too ruthless.

The Crusaders called on their best qualities to beat the Lions 37-18 in the Super Rugby final and clinch a ninth title.

David Havili

David Havili Photo: Photosport

The South African visitors dominated vast chunks of a brutal decider at Christchurch's AMI Stadium on Saturday but couldn't match the composure and killer instinct of the hosts.

On the back of another exceptional performance from five-eighth Richie Mo'unga, the Crusaders scored four tries to two.

Attacking opportunities were few - they were forced to make 180 tackles - but the Crusaders finished in clinical fashion.

Mo'unga, who landed all seven shots at goal for 17 points with the boot, made another claim for an All Blacks test jersey as his general play hit the sublime level of last week's semi-final win over the Hurricanes.

However, he didn't have the freedom of a week ago as the Lions pack took it to their vaunted All Blacks-laden opposites in search of a maiden title.

They had to settle for a runners-up finish for a heartbreaking third-straight season.

Last year they were beaten 25-17 in a Johannesburg final by a Crusaders team who have made an art-form of winning play-off matches.

The red and black juggernaut are now unbeaten in 21 post-season games in Christchurch.

They extended a winning streak this season to 15 matches, once again based around defence and a ruthless instinct when opponents slip up.

Playing with just 35 per cent of the ball, the Crusaders somehow forged a 20-6 halftime lead.

The Lions dominated the early stages but only had a 3-0 advantage to show for it.

When given ball, Mo'unga showed what a lethal threat he is, creating both first-half tries.

He sent France-bound winger Seta Tamanivalu over via a cut-out pass and sliced through to set up fullback David Havili's try.

Mo'unga converted both and slotted twin penalties while opposite Elton Jantjes notched his second penalty goal on the stroke of halftime.

The Lions' territorial dominance continued after the break, setting up powerhouse flanker Cyle Brink's try, only for the Crusaders to strike back through Mitchell Drummond.

Despite a 17-point advantage, hearts fluttered among the hosts when inside centre Ryan Crotty was shown a yellow card for cynical play with 15 minutes to play.

Lions hooker Malcolm Marx barged across for his 12th try of the season but Crusaders lock Scott Barrett effectively sealed the result with a 70th minute try.