WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The Canterbury Crusaders knew their most important job in beating the Jaguares and winning their 10th Super Rugby title was to slow down the South Americans’ ball and put pressure on their playmakers.
They did both on Saturday at Rugby League Park in Christchurch as they ground out a tense 19-3 victory over the Argentine side to clinch a “three-peat” of titles under coach Scott Robertson.
The final, however, was far from easy with the visitors showing the most enterprise and stretching the Crusaders defence to breaking point on several occasions before they were repelled at every opportunity.
“Defence won it for us,” Robertson said. “Matt Todd made 100 tackles and we just found a way.”
Loose forward Todd, who actually made 15 tackles, added the team had worked on slowing down the pace of the Jaguares’ game, knowing they could win the match if they engaged them in an arm wrestle for possession.
“We knew we had to front, especially the forward pack,” Todd said. “They have got big ball runners and if they get a roll on it’s a tough night.
“We had to front up and try to slow their ball down and not let them get any rhythm.
“It was probably not the most exciting but in conditions like this it was about doing the basics and doing them well.”
With man-of-the-match Pablo Matera popping up in the wide channels and drawing in defenders to provide his outside backs with space to exploit, the Crusaders were forced to make several desperate tackles.
Fullback David Havili’s tackle on Matias Moroni on the tryline shortly before halftime not only stopped a certain try when the winger lost the ball forward, but typified the defensive effort of the home side.
“We talked all week about never giving up, you try and find a way. And the boys did that,” Todd added.
“They were scrambling from everywhere and we were able to make enough plays.”
That defensive pressure, and the slippery conditions, forced the Jaguares to adjust their tactics after the first quarter with flyhalf Joaquin Diaz Bonilla standing further back in the pocket and box kicking to put pressure on the Crusaders.
The flyhalf had previously been standing flatter and taking the ball to the line to get his backline involved but Jaguares coach Gonzalo Quesada said they felt playing without the ball might create more opportunities.
“Both teams were struggling with the ball,” the first-year coach said. “It was very slippery. Any turnovers were going to be complicated for the other team.
“Our kicking game was not as precise as it should be but that could be because of the pressure from the Crusaders. They did not give us any time.
“It’s no coincidence they are the best side in the competition by far.”
Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ed Osmond