The Crusaders advanced to the 2019 Super Rugby Final by knocking out the Hurricanes with a 30-26 win in their semi-final in Christchurch on Saturday.
As the scoreline suggests, this was a tightly-fought encounter with both sides going at each other hammer and tongs for the full 80 minutes and the result was in the balance until the end.
The Crusaders were made to work hard for this win especially in the second half when the Hurricanes delivered a brilliant attacking display and the men from Wellington eventually outscored the champions by four tries to three.
Excellent goalkicking from Richie Mo’unga proved the difference between the sides in the end and he contributed 20 points in his side’s win courtesy of three penalties, three conversions and a try, while Sevu Reece crossed for a brace of tries.
For the Hurricanes, Ngani Laumape scored two tries and their other points came via tries from Ben Lam and TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett slotted three conversions.
The home side drew first blood via a Mo’unga penalty after just three minutes and they continued to hold the upper-hand during the rest of the half as they had the bulk of the territory and possession.
Ten minutes later, Mo’unga showed his class when he launched a well-weighted crossfield kick which Reece gathered off his bootlaces before diving over in the right-hand corner.
Mo’unga added the extras which meant the Crusaders were holding a comfortable 10-0 lead inside the opening quarter. They continued to dominate over the next 20 minutes but had little to show for their efforts with another penalty from Mo’unga in the 34th minute the only points scored during that period.
The Hurricanes needed a response and that came on the stroke of half-time when Laumape shrugged off a couple of defenders on his way over the try-line and Barrett’s conversion meant the visitors were back in this match with the Crusaders holding a 13-7 lead at the interval.
The Hurricanes started the second half in similar fashion to how they finished the first and shortly after the restart Ben Lam stunned the home crowd when he rounded off in the left-hand corner. This, after a superb line break from Matt Proctor and an excellent final pass from TJ Perenara in the build-up.
Barrett failed with his conversion attempt and that proved costly as the Crusaders struck back shortly afterwards when Mo’unga crossed the whitewash. This, when James Marshall, who had just come on as a replacement, failed to deal with a teasing kick from Mo’unga just outside the Hurricanes’ 22. Reece pounced on the loose ball before offloading to Mo’unga, who had an easy run-in under the posts.
He dusted himself off before slotting the conversion which gave his team a 20-12 lead but the Hurricanes would not surrender and continued to launch attacks inside the Crusaders’ half.
In the 51st minute, Jack Goodhue lost the ball in contact and Laumape booted the ball ahead before gathering and crossing the whitewash. There were concerns that he had knocked on in the build-up but television replays revealed that the ball came off his chest and not his hands which meant the try stood and Barrett’s successful conversion meant the Crusaders were now holding a slender 20-19 lead.
The Crusaders struck back when Kieran Read, Matt Todd and Jordan Taufua combined brilliantly to create space for Reece, who beat Beauden Barrett with deft footwork before crossing in the right-hand corner again.
Mo’unga’s conversion gave the champions more breathing space but the Hurricanes refused to surrender and on the hour-mark Perenara sold three defenders a dummy deep inside Crusaders territory before diving over from close range.
The closing stages were frantic with the visitors upping the ante in a bid to steal the win but the Crusaders held on and secured victory when Mo’unga landed his third penalty in the 73rd minute.
For Crusaders: Tries: Reece 2, Mounga Cons: Mo’unga 3 Pens: Mo’unga 3
For Hurricanes: Tries: Laumape 2, Lam, Perenara Cons: B Barrett 3
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetu Douglas, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Toby Smith Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Ben May, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Vaea Fifita, 21 Richard Judd, 22 James Marshall, 23 Peter Umaga-Jensen
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia) Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Paul Williams (New Zealand) TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)