Crusaders' Super Rugby victory fails to hit the heights worthy of a great final

Alex Broun 16:21 04/08/2018
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The Crusaders enthusiasm was not matched by their fans.

As a rugby lover it would be great to write a match report about a thrilling Super Rugby final, played between two evenly matched teams with sweeping backline moves, courageous defence and powerful forward play.

It would be great – but sadly that wasn’t the case.

This game resembled a great contest as much as sawdust resembles snow.

It’s difficult to remember a more one-sided final.

From the moment the Lions came up with nothing after bombarding the Crusaders line for the first eight minutes, the writing was on the wall.

And when Seta Tamanivalu crossed for the Crusaders’ opening try from their first attacking opportunity the match was as good as over.

The rest was just a dull procession, enlivened by some attacking brilliance in the second half, as we waited for Sam Whitelock to lift the Super Rugby trophy above his head – the ninth time a Crusaders captain has done that in just 23 years.

In terms of entertainment value this was like a giant python slowly strangling a small dog over an hour and a half.

You know what’s going to happen and its tedious and painful to watch.

The Lions’ attacks were about as pointless as shooting paintballs against a brick wall – and not colourful paintballs either. Grey, beige and black.

When the Lions did occasionally threaten, the Crusaders repelled their advances comfortably.

Nothing was more telling than the Lions’ attacking scrum five metres out from the Crusaders line early in the second half.

It was the visitors’ last chance to even hint at making the match competitive.

But on cue the Crusaders turned on the power and the Lions’ scrum imploded.

There was a brief flurry as Lions flanker Cyle Brink powered his way over in the 53rd minute but despite having 62 per cent of the possession and 70 per cent of the territory – the Lions were never really in it.

As sporting contests go it was one of the most one-sided finals you could witness.

A testament to the excellence of this Crusaders team, and just how high they set their standards, was that despite the match being comfortably won in the final minutes the champions defended with more venom than they had in the entire match, repelling the Lions’ vain attacking attempts with some ferocious hits.

Nothing in the end could have been more appropriate than hardworking Crusaders flanker Matt Todd turning the ball over on his own line and booting it into touch for the final act of the match.

Unfortunately the only real jubilation on the final whistle came from the players on the field.

The occasion of the final was wasted on a Christchurch crowd so weary of success that Crusaders coach Scott Robertson had to walk out onto the pitch before the match and try to rouse them to show some interest.

The AMI Stadium in Christchurch only seats 18,000 but so apathetic were fans that there were fears the venue would not be full, even for the tournament showpiece.

Even Scott Robertson's break dancing couldn't get the crowd excited.

Even Scott Robertson’s break dancing couldn’t get the crowd excited.

In the end the ground was full but so blasé were the Crusaders’ supporters about the victory that most of them had departed before victorious captain Sam Whitelock had even raised the Super Rugby trophy above his head, and well before Robertson had completed his celebratory break dance.

It is one of Super Rugby’s big problems that the nation that so dominates the tournament has fans who are so reluctant to attend a match.

There were very few sell-outs during the season with great swathes of empty seats in Auckland and Wellington, which hardly makes for good television pictures.

At Eden Park it’s understandable that crowds aren’t coming out to support the underperforming Blues but the Hurricanes in Wellington were champions as recently as 2016 and play some of the most entertaining rugby on the planet.

But for a nation spoiled by success, who have won 16 of the 23 Super Rugby titles on offer, plus the last two Rugby World Cups and 15 Bledisloe Cups in succession, even a final victory isn’t enough to raise much more than a polite nod.

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