Cape Town – Now the amazing, nine-time Super Rugby champions, the Crusaders often provide enthralling masterclasses in attacking play.
In Saturday’s 2018 final against the Lions in Christchurch, their admirably-structured, committed and un-budging defence was the cornerstone of their fairly predictable 37-18 triumph over the Lions.
The men from Johannesburg put in a valiant shift, never giving the impression that they would surrender their famed spirit, but also found it well-nigh impossible much of the time to get over the advantage line despite clear-cut domination of both territory and possession.
And when they did cross the whitewash – twice – the calm, clinical ‘Saders would almost inevitably strike back swiftly and lethally to dispel any suggestion that an upset might take place.
Vitally, the hosts and heavy favourites had also done their homework thoroughly on the much-touted Lions’ attacking lineout maul … so much so that the red-and-whites sometimes, deflatingly, binned it as an option.
On a dry but chilly night, the Lions were dapper enough yet outsmarted foes, and one of their departing stalwarts, Franco Mostert, earns top score for the SA outfit on my ratings chart.
Here’s how I rated the Lions in Christchurch:
Andries Coetzee: 5.5
Generally error-free showing by the fullback, who made his aerial claims assuredly. Carried the ball up spiritedly once or twice, but no surprise elements from him, either.
Ruan Combrinck: 6
Slightly patchy showing from a man keen to regain the Springbok No 14 berth, though one of the more dangerous Lions back-liners on the night. Made one beautiful bust through the middle in the first half, and found a pleasingly long touch from a penalty. Some gremlins on defence, and a pass straight into touch.
Lionel Mapoe: 5.5
Policed the outside centre channel reasonably well, though few opportunities with ball in hand. Superb track-back tackle on Jack Goodhue … but it still didn’t prevent a try, and he’d also just been beaten in an aerial 50-50 that sparked the ‘Saders attack.
Harold Vorster: 6
Took a few intelligent options, including a smart grubber toward the corner flag on attack in first half. Surrendered a maul turnover.
Courtnall Skosan: 5.5
Some plucky tackles, though fatally “sucked in” for Seta Tamanivalu’s try. Engineered one decent counter-raid from deep.
Elton Jantjies: 4.5
Sadly, for all his talent, another too clearly error-laden performance on one of rugby’s more testing stages. Played too much in the pocket, even when Lions had generous ball and real estate. Made a pass to nowhere, overcooked some hoists expensively to hand back possession, and decision-making was ropey. Consummately outplayed at ten by the outstanding Richie Mo’unga.
Ross Cronje: 5
You couldn’t complain too much about his basics, including mostly delivering accurate passes. But also short of X-factor and sometimes swamped before he could release the “pill”.
Warren Whiteley: 5.5
Cool enough head in leadership terms, but personal showing little more than average. One clever pass out of a tackle, but another that went astray.
Cyle Brink: 6
Struggled initially to put a stamp on things, including penalty giveaway for not rolling. But earns a mark-up for his sensational break out of two attempted tackles to streak away for Lions’ first try. (Justin Marshall praised his “honest, brutal power” in doing so.)
Kwagga Smith: 4.5
Would have hoped for a better showing after his red card against the same foes in last year’s showpiece. But little to no impact in scavenging terms, and missed a couple of costly tackles.
Franco Mostert: 7
A heart-and-soul swansong for the Lions: no more than you’d expect from their ever-consistent warhorse? Scrapped earnestly at coalface, and was twice (once in a try-saving sense) the last Lions defender at the corner flag to confirm his overall energy.
Marvin Orie: 5.5
Has had eye-opening, constructive fire in his belly for much of the season, but here he just fell short of more customary standards in 2018, by my book.
Ruan Dreyer: 4.5
Very effective earlier in the knockout phase, here the tighthead anchor couldn’t assert himself at scrum time. Won one penalty as rival Joe Moody lost bind, but also leaked two, plus spilled a ball in contact.
Malcolm Marx: 6
Seemed a little muted in first half, though Crusaders were also watching the No 2 dangerman like a hawk. Came much more strongly into his own after break, including typically muscular barge over line for 68th-minute try that (very briefly) gave his team unlikely game-snatch hope.
Jacques van Rooyen: 5
Scrum was one area Lions had hoped to slightly edge; it didn’t happen and Van Rooyen laboured for any truly assertive heaves.
Aphiwe Dyantyi: 6.5
Replaced Skosan in 53rd minute and immediately looked lively, slippery. Also put in one courageous high-ball challenge where he got the better of the much brawnier Tamanivalu, forcing an error.
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