The Lions will host the Crusaders in next week’s Grand Final after each of them demonstrated their title-winning credentials, but in contrasting fashion.
CRUSADERS 27-13 CHIEFS
The Crusaders, normally a team that likes to hold the ball for long periods and ramp up the pressure until something cracks, instead chose to give away possession and trust their defence to hold until the Chiefs counter-attacked themselves to a standstill.
The pattern was set early, the Chiefs putting together multiple phases before running out of ideas other than a Damian McKenzie kick straight to his opposite David Havilli, who claimed the mark but chose to keep the ball in play. A second long period of Chiefs possession ended when Aaron Cruden dropped the ball cold.
Crusaders 5/8 Richie Mo’unga got scoring underway after 13 minutes with a penalty, then three minutes later did well to field a ball, beat the first-up tackler and set his winger Israel Dagg away. Halfback Bryn Hall was on hand to take the final pas and score with Mo’unga converting for a 10-0 lead.
Chiefs winger James Lowe was awarded a try after 20 minutes but then the TMO intervened and detected a knock on in the grounding. This despite referee Jackson not asking for a review and there being no hint of any foul play that would have triggered the TMO’s ability to step in uninvited.
Two McKenzie penalties got the Chiefs in the game, as did several runs from he, Lowe and Cruden but on each occasion the defence held or an error occurred.
Half time: Crusaders 10-6 Chiefs
The first of two turning points in the match came after 50 minutes. Lowe fielded a kick in his 22 but was tackled by Mo’unga. The ball came loose and fell into the arms of Dagg who couldn’t believe his luck. The conversion missed but at 15-6 the Chiefs were visibly starting to lose some composure and accuracy.
The second and decisive blow was struck by winger Seta Tamanivalu. Having been held up over the line he powered over from the resulting five metre scrum, the conversion making it 22-6. He bagged a second try with seven minutes remaining, his centre Ryan Crotty the instigator, to put matters beyond any lingering doubt.
The Chiefs did score a late try to tireless lock Brodie Retallick which McKenzie converted but the match was effectively over as a contest with Tamanivalu’s first try.
Tries: Bryn Hall, Israel Dagg, Seta Tamanivalu (2)
Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (2)
Try: Brodie Retallick
Conversion: Damian McKenzie
Penalties: McKenzie (2)
LIONS 44-29 HURRICANES
The Lions looked gone after 30 minutes, trailing 3-22 and nothing seeming to go right for them, before producing an astonishing half of rugby to blow the Hurricanes off Ellis Park.
An early penalty to flyhalf Elton Jantjies would have settled his nerves after a poor match last week, but it didn’t last long with ‘canes halfback TJ Perenara swooping on his loose pass near halfway to kick ahead, regather and score. Jordie Barrett, now clearly the preferred goal kicker over brother Beauden, couldn’t convert.
From a lineout near halfway the Barrett brothers combined to put their winger Wes Goosen into space and score in the corner. This time the conversion was on target for a 12-3 lead. Another Hurricanes raid soon after resulted in Barrett adding another three and the Lions looking shell-shocked.
Flanker Ardie Savea scored the visitors third try, scooping up a loose pass near halfway to go in under the posts. Ultimately the try was down to Jantjies opting to tap a penalty rather than back his lineout, which at this point was one of the few things the Lions were doing well.
The Hurricanes had an opportunity to put the game well out of reach but hooker Dane Coles fumbled and the Lions cleared their line, the Lions soon winning a penalty that Jantjies this time drilled downfield. Prop Jacques van Rooyen barged over from a secondary penalty with Jantjies converting to give his team some hope going into the sheds.
Half time: Hurricanes 22-10 Lions
Whatever Lions coach Johan Ackerman said to his players at half time certainly worked as they came out firing, scoring two tries in twelve minutes to draw level.
The first saw halfback Ross Cronje plant the ball on the line after a rolling maul, the second hooker Malcolm Marx go over from another rolling maul on the back of a break by centre Harold Vorster that forced a penalty.
The Hurricanes regained the lead through centre Ngani Laumape, his fifteenth of the season coming after 55 minutes from a turnover inside the Lions 22. Barrett pushed the lead out to 29-22.
Beauden Barrett was unluckily yellow carded when his attempt to roll clear of a tackle caused the ball to come loose. Referee Jaco Peyper seemed almost apologetic in explains his decision, but obviously felt he had to rule on the outcome of Barrett’s action rather than trying to determine his intent.
With Barrett off the field the Lions took command of the game. First Jantjies kicked the penalty then Vorster and Jantjies himself scored tries, both converted, to lead 39-29 as Barrett rejoined proceedings. Both tries came after relentless Lions attacks, flanker Kwagga Smith in particular putting in several big carries.
Smith was rewarded for his efforts with a try that killed off any chance of a late Hurricanes comeback, set up by an Akker van der Merwe intercept. Jantjies wasn’t able to convert.
Tries: Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith
Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4)
Penalties: Jantjies (2)
Tries: TJ Perenara, Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape
Conversions: Jordie Barrett (2), Beauden Barrett
Penalty: Jordie Barrett
Match details for the Final have yet to be confirmed, but it’ll likely be at 22:30 AEST on Saturday and the Lions will be firm favourites with home teams having won 16 of 21 Finals, and no team having won a Final after crossing the Indian Ocean.