Delight for Ronan O'Gara as Crusaders retain Super Rugby crown

The Lions’ heartbreaking run of final defeats extends to a third year in a row after this morning’s result.

inpho_01405732 The Crusaders are Super Rugby champions once again. Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO / John Davidson/INPHO

THE CRUSADERS SUCCESSFULLY defended their Super Rugby title as a 37-18 home victory handed the Lions more final pain at AMI Stadium.

For the second year running, the New Zealand outfit — for whom legendary former Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara works as an assistant coach — added to their record haul of titles (9) as the magnitude of a repeat of last year’s final appeared too much for the Lions at times in a sloppy display.

Seta Tamanivalu, set to depart for Bordeaux, and David Havili scored first-half tries and a 15th consecutive Crusaders win looked a formality, despite allowing the visitors to monopolise possession.

There was a belated riposte from Cyle Brink after the break and, although a Mitchell Drummond effort restored a healthy home advantage, Ryan Crotty was then sent to the sin bin shortly before Malcolm Marx again brought the Lions back into contention.

Tim Batmand and Ronan O'Gara celebrate winning Ronan O'Gara celebrates with the Crusaders' Tim Bateman. Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO / John Davidson/INPHO

But Scott Barrett stretched the lead again to begin the Crusaders’ celebrations early, as the wait for a first championship goes on for the Lions, whose heartbreaking run of final defeats extends to a third year in a row.

The Lions were dominant in the early stages but had only an Elton Jantjies penalty to show for their efforts by the 15-minute mark, allowing Richie Mo’unga to swiftly level. The visitors’ failure to capitalise on their strong start proved costly as the Crusaders turned the screw and Tamanivalu charged through two challenges to cross in the corner.

Jantjies’ poor kicking from deep invited further pressure late in the half and, after gifting the Crusaders a scrum and valuable territory as he carried the ball over his own try-line, the Lions were punished. Mo’unga dispatched a penalty following the scrum and soon created a second home try, claiming a Jantjies kick and driving an attack that ended with Havili lunging over.

Richie Mo'unga Richie Mo'unga on the charge for the Crusaders against the Lions. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Jantjies reduced the deficit on the stroke of half-time, yet the Lions again initially struggled to build on his penalty and Mo’unga kicked the first points after the restart. The visitors then wrongly believed they had their first try when Jantjies stretched just short of the line, but they did not have to wait long to score as Brink thundered through from 20 yards.

A devastating move freed Drummond to cross under the posts at the other end as the Crusaders hit back, but the Lions attacked with ever more gusto and a sturdy home defence was hindered by Crotty’s yellow card before Marx forged a route through on the left.

Once again the Crusaders had a response, though, and Barrett’s try 10 minutes from time finally secured the result and the title.

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