Aug 4 (Reuters) - The Canterbury Crusaders knew before the Super Rugby final that if they stopped the Lions’ attacking lineout drives, targeted flyhalf Elton Jantjies and put him under pressure and tackled everything that moved, they were in with a chance of winning.
They did all three on Saturday while Richie Mo’unga drove them around the field at Rugby League Park in Christchurch to record a 37-18 victory and secure their ninth title.
The Crusaders made 180 tackles to the Lions’ 115 and conceded 15 penalties to the visitors’ six, indicating the pressure they were under at times.
The home side, however, did not crack until the 53rd minute when bruising Lions flanker Cyle Brink brushed past two defenders and ran 25 metres to score his side’s first try.
“It’s the old cliche that defence wins you titles and I guess we proved that,” said Crusaders lock Scott Barrett, who scored one of his side’s four tries. “We hung tough.
“We slowed their ruck ball down. They’re big men and they want to run straight (so we tried) to get two men into the tackle and can get them going backwards.
“Once you hold them out for a couple of times, that doubt in the back of their minds can grow.”
Scott Robertson’s side had also recognised the attacking weapon the South Africans had with their lineout drives, with hooker Malcolm Marx — who is often the man at the back of the drive controlling the ball — scoring 11 tries before the final.
He added his 12th in the 68th minute but it was evident the Crusaders had worked out how to negate the drive as they attacked the ball in the air to ensure it was not clean or countered effectively when it was brought down.
“Our maul defence was huge and it had to be,” Robertson said. “If they score two or three tries they win the game.
“What was it, 20 (attacking mauls)? It felt like it was about 20 that we defended.
“Defence shows how much you care. Defence won it for us last year and it did again this year.”
Robertson added that they had deliberately targeted Jantjies, knowing that if they put the enigmatic flyhalf under pressure he could crack and commit errors.
It worked. The 28-year-old’s kicking game was wayward, which allowed Mo’unga to counter-attack and set up David Havili’s try, while he missed three of the five tackles he was forced to make.
“We wanted to have a crack at Jantjies and attack his channel,” Robertson said. “That’s how we got our first try, we got behind him.”
Despite losing their third successive final, Lions coach Swys de Bruin only had praise for the Crusaders.
“Congratulations to the Crusaders. They’re a fantastic team,” de Bruin said. “To come here and (win) is very tough.
“It’s the best team in the world that we played against I believe.” (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Christian Radnedge)