Crusaders already eyeing next triumph

AFP-JIJI

The Canterbury Crusaders had hardly begun to celebrate their back-to-back Super Rugby titles when they put the spotlight on completing a three-peat next year.

The Crusaders were too smart and too clinical for the Golden Lions in Christchurch on Saturday as they won this year’s final 37-18, after posting a 25-17 victory over the same side in the previous year’s final.

The victory extended the New Zealand club’s phenomenal record in the 23-year-old southern hemisphere competition to nine titles from 13 finals. The Crusaders have fallen short of reaching at least the semifinals only five times.

Coach Scott Robertson said talk of winning again in 2019 has already started.

“One of the players — I won’t name names — it was the first thing he said. I thought he was going to come in for a cuddle. He was talking about that,” Robertson said, confirming he was keen to stay with the side and did not really want a break between seasons.

“My mind sort of wanders to what can happen next year already,” he said. “You are always sort of planning ahead.

“It is like a great holiday, you actually don’t want this to end. What I am going to do next week? There is nothing next week — that is the hard part of it for me.”

Robertson, who performed a breakdance routine in front of his players to celebrate, has led the Crusaders to the title in each of his two years in charge. Last year’s win ended a nine-year title drought, and Saturday’s match was the Crusaders’ first home final in 10 years.

“To do it back-to-back in a style like that is massive,” Robertson said.

“We made the most tackles we have all year, which shows the quality of the game and to do it here for the first time in 10 years was special.”

While he was elated last year, when the club wasn’t expected to win in Johannesburg, winning at home carried a different feeling.

“We were favorites here. It was relief,” he said.

Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara, now a Crusaders assistant coach, has been impressed by the “humility” of the players and said the team culture was to play for each other.

“We had 16 debutants this year, including for the French Barbarians game, and it meant everyone stepped up. I’m just really proud,” he said.

Lions skipper Warren Whiteley could not argue with the scoreboard, saying his side fired every weapon in its arsenal but could not land a telling blow.

“Jeez it was tough . . . (we) pretty much did everything that we could and they were just very good. There is nothing else you can say,” he said.

“You have to give the Crusaders credit, they were unbelievable, they defended like champions and we’ve got so much respect for them.”

The Lions, chasing their first title, lost in the final for the third consecutive year.

The writing was on the wall early for the visiting Lions when the Crusaders neutralized the rolling maul which has been their most reliable attacking weapon, producing 21 tries. The Lions had their first attempt at setting a maul from a lineout in the 10th minute but the Crusaders pack combined to hurl them back 10 meters.

The Lions had a few other chances in a first half in which they had 70 percent of possession and the same amount of territory but they were thrown back again on each occasion until they were forced to abandon the tactic. Deprived of that platform, which is the bedrock of their game, the Lions had few other attacking ideas.