The magical touch of Richie Mo’unga and a stout defence put seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders into another Super Rugby final when they beat the Waikato Chiefs 27-13 in Christchurch yesterday.
With the Crusaders up only 10-6 at half-time and starved of possession, the game turned 10 minutes into the second half when Chiefs wing James Lowe attempted a clearing kick while scrambling on defence. Mo’unga came from behind to knock the ball into the hands of the oncoming Israel Dagg, who dived across the line to open up the Crusaders’ lead and from there they never looked back.
Seta Tamanivalu, who this week turned down an offer to return to the Chiefs and will stay instead with the Crusaders, added two more tries before Brodie Retallick scored a consolation five-pointer for the Chiefs at the end. Crusaders will face Golden Lions in the final, after the South Africans beat Wellington Hurricanes in Johannesburg.
The Chiefs enjoyed 77% possession in the first half and the Crusaders were forced to make 200 tackles in the match, but captain Sam Whitelock said they always felt the game would turn. “The Chiefs held the ball and really attacked us, especially in that first 50 minutes,” he said. “We knew if we could weather that storm we’d hopefully come over the top of them in the end.”
Chiefs captain Aaron Cruden, in his last game in New Zealand before taking up a contract to play in France, said his side had enough possession to win but could not find their way to the line. “You’ve got to give credit to the Crusaders. They scrambled really well and when it looked like we had them on the ropes they were able to just do enough to hold us out,” he said.
The Chiefs, despite returning from a long trip to South Africa where they beat the Western Stormers last week, looked the more fresh at the start although they were unable to cross the Crusaders line. Matt Todd cut down Cruden from behind early in the match, Tim Nanai-Williams spilled the ball when diving for the line while Lowe was also brought down short of the line just before half-time.
The Crusaders struggled in the possession stakes but they made the most of their limited chances, hitting the front with a Mo’unga penalty the first time they made it inside the Chiefs’ 22. Dagg engineered the only try of the half when he sparked a counter-attack from deep in Crusaders territory and worked with Ryan Crotty to sweep down field before scrum-half Bryn Hall finished off the move.
Mo’unga converted the try while Damian McKenzie brought the Chiefs into the game with two penalties for the visitors to trail by four points at the turn. After Dagg’s try extended the lead for the Crusaders early in the second half, Tamanivalu crashed over twice to put the game beyond doubt at 27-6 before Retallick scored the Chiefs’ only try at the end.
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