THE Crusaders defeated 14-man Emirates Lions 25-17 in a gripping Vodacom Super Rugby Final played at Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon to lift their eighth title and deny the home side a dream finish to an emotional campaign.
The match was marked by the first half red card shown to Kwagga Smith for making contact with David Havili in the air two minutes before the break.
In fairness though, the Kiwi side dominated the opening stanza to set them up for success, despite the courageous fight back from the home side in the latter stages of this absorbing clash.
The match was played before a record capacity crowd of 62 000 and was also the farewell occasion of Emirates Lions coach, Johan Ackermann, who will join English Premiership club Gloucester next week.
Ackermann said afterwards the Crusaders deserved to win the title and also praised his team for their fighting display, especially in the second half.
“The result did not go our way, but I asked the guys at half-time not to give up, to keep fighting and they did that,” explained Ackermann.
“It took a lot out of 14 men for them to come back and I’m very proud of them – they showed a lot of character. It was phenomenal, coming from 3-25 down to run them close is what will stay with me.
“They did their homework and contested well in the lineouts where they stopped our drives close to their line. They played good rugby all year, have been consistently superb and are worthy champions.”
The Highveld team made a slow start and it was the visitors who was setting the pace in the collisions, while they also took their chances to keep the scoreboard busy.
With one man down and battling a 12-point deficit at halftime (15-3), the home side had a mountain to climb in the second half against the competition’s most successful team. After the restart, No 8 Kieran Reid crashed over for a converted try and while adding a penalty, the Crusaders stretched their lead to 25-3.
To their credit, the home team dug deep and fought back bravely, with scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and the rest of the bench making a huge impact. Lively hooker Malcolm Marx scored their first try, while Corne Fourie added a second later on.
However, in the end it was the Crusaders’ spirited defence against a late, determined home onslaught that ultimately clinched the 2017 title.
Emirates Lions – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Corne Fourie. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalty: Elton Jantjies.
Crusaders – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Kieran Reid. Conversions: Richie Mounga (2). Penalties: Mounga.-www.sarugby.co.za