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Crusaders The Complete Package


Crusaders The Complete Package

Crusaders The Complete Package


SO we have two worthy teams in the final. 

The Crusaders have been favourites all the way through, and apart from those early losses in Wellington and Dunedin, have played up to that tag.

They controlled the game against the Hurricanes superbly, making the Canes play too much footy inside their own half.

They did that through their commanding forward pack, an excellent tactical kicking game and ruthless finishing. Championship quality.

In contrast the Hurricanes couldn’t get a foothold up front, and they kicked poorly. Their exit plays have been a bit of an issue for much of the season, and their attempts to stab the ball past the rushing Crusaders defence were not well executed and doomed to fail.

It’s a shame they couldn’t sustain their form of earlier in the season. The All Black camps and the June break did seem to break their stride a bit, and even though they played well to beat the Chiefs in the quarters, they were never quite at that brilliant pre-June level again.

I’ve heard plenty of people say that Saturday’s game in Christchurch was the “real” final but the Hurricanes would have had to beat the Crusaders at some stage, and they would have needed to play a lot better to do that.

The Lions deserve respect for making the final for the third straight year, and it wouldn’t hurt to show them some. I’m sure the Crusaders will.

Last year they did have an easier passage, no doubt.

They played no New Zealand teams before the semis, and had a much easier pool that featured the Sunwolves, Cheetahs, and a less competitive Jaguares.

This year the South African conference was much tougher, with no Cheetahs or Sunwolves, a much improved Jaguares team and a Sharks side good enough to make the top eight.

Yes, they did lose four tight games against Kiwi opposition, including the hapless Blues, but they beat two strong sides in the quarter and semi-finals, and beat them well.

The question now is can they threaten the Crusaders?

It would help if they didn’t have to travel so far quite so soon.

It was the same last year when the Crusaders had to travel to Johannesburg, the year before when the Lions travelled to Wellington, and in previous years when other teams were dashing back and forth across the Indian Ocean….. 

In a competition cursed by travel distances, it would help level the field and produce a better contest in the final if there was a week off between the semis and the final.

Even so, the Lions are good enough to make this a great decider, and are not incapable of the big upset.

They have in Malcolm Marx, a player as good as any in the game right now. They have a big pack, solid set piece, they’re not frightened to give the ball a bit of width, they have an intelligent captain, and in Marx, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert and, off the bench the dynamic Marnus Schoeman, players who carry with real aggression.  

They have weak spots. They don’t always clear phase ball well, like most South African sides they’re not great at chasing down a deficit, and Elton Jantjies has gained a reputation for fluffing his lines in the big show.

In contrast, the Crusaders don’t have any visible weaknesses right now. 

Their forward pack can foot it with any, they have bags of big time experience, lethal strike power out wide, a midfield that gets better with every game, and an inside back platoon that can control a game no matter who is wearing the nine jersey.

Richie Mo’unga was superb again in the semi. Unlike Beauden Barrett, he had the luxury of operating behind a pack that gave him that extra half metre, that extra split second that allowed him to control the game. His kicking was superb, and he ran and passed well, making just one obvious handling gaffe.

There’s a lot of talk about whether Mo’unga should get the start for the All Blacks, and on current form he would not be out of place.

But if the recent past is anything to go by, the All Blacks hierarchy are unlikely to deviate from the grand plan of Barrett in 10, and McKenzie either in 15 or off the bench.

Mo’unga deserves to get a chance at some point in the Rugby Championship, and it will happen, but unless there’s an injury, it’s unlikely to be for Bledisloe One or Two.

However he won’t be thinking about that. Saturday in Christchurch and back to back titles are the focus. Mo’unga will certainly be a key figure, it’s another chance for him to shine, and he has the team around him to allow that to happen.

Its hard to go past the Crusaders, but the Lions are good enough not to be completely written off.