The Crusaders claimed their sixth Super Rugby title when they beat the Hurricanes 19-12 in almost impossible conditions at Jade Stadium on Saturday. The home side led 6-3 at the break.
A thick blanket of fog turned the first Vodacom Super 14 final into a total farce, as two teams with sublime attacking skills were forced to put boot to ball on over 100 occasions.
So thick was the fog that Sky NZ had to make use of two TV commentators – one for each side of the field. Most of the spectators at the top of the grandstands opted to leave the ground in the first half and watch the remainder of the match on TV. The others saw the game only when play was right in front of them.
In the end, the final was decided by a Crusaders try midway through the second half. With the scores locked at 9-all, flyhalf Dan Carter switched with outside centre Casey Laulala, who crashed over next to the posts.
Carter missed his first penalty attempt of the night, but then succeeded with four penalties and a conversion, for a personal tally of 14 points. The Crusaders dominated territory (82%), mauled three times as much as the Hurricanes, and deserved to win the game.
The Hurricanes spent most of the match in their own 22 and the official match statistics reflected the dominance. The Crusaders were camped in the Canes 22 for 23 minutes, while the Canes spent one solitary minute in the home team 22. The Canes got their first lineout throw on 40 minutes and the lineout advantage favoured the Crusaders 21-5.
The possession was also a 60 to 40 percent affair and if the conditions had been simply reasonable the scoreboard may well have reflected this superiority. As it was, it seemed a struggle to see the players lined up next to each other.
And with Carter at flyhalf he was always going to dicate where the game would be played. Also, his control of the flow of the game meant it was never in doubt who was going to win.
“We knew it would be a grind, and it definitely wasn’t pretty,” said Crusaders captain Richie McCaw. “We kept things much tighter and played the game at their end of the paddock. In the end, our composure won it for us.”
Crusaders - Try: Casey Laulala. Conversion: Dan Carter. Penalties: Carter (4).
Hurricanes - Penalties: Piri Weepu, David Holwell, Jimmy Gopperth (2).
By Simon Borchardt
69min – Penalty Gopperth.
68min – Carter kicks another penalty.
61min- Laulala scores the game’s first try after a switch with Carter from a 5m scrum. Carter converts.
59min – Saders pull it up and then take it wide. Gear is tackled into touch just before the tryline on the right-hand side.
57min – Carter launches an up and under that lands on the Canes line, the ball bounces loose but Weepu grounds it. Saders have knocked on though and Canes get the 5m scrum. Canes then knock it on and the Saders have a 5m scrum.
54min – Saders are penalised for offsides in midfield, 40m out from their tryline. Gopperth goes for goal … and makes no mistake.
50min – Gopperth on for Holwell.
45min – Leo’o on for Filipo, Thorne to lock.
45min – The Canes knock on the man ahead of him plays the ball and concedes the penalty. Carter will kick for goal … and over it goes.
42min – MacDonald is nailed inside his half and concedes the penalty. Holwell kicks the three.
34min – MacDonald makes a linebreak – probably the first of the game – from which the Saders get a penalty. Carter makes no mistake.
31min – The fog seems to have cleared a little. Just a little through.
30min – Saders win the line-out and bash it up to within inches of the tryline. They eventually get the penalty straight in front which Carter sends through the posts.
28min – Carter kicks down field, the Canes can’t see the ball and McDonald takes possession. Hamilton is stopped 5m short but seems to knock on. These conditions are now beyond a joke.
21min – Weepu is struggling with injury but seems to be OK.
20min – Umaga is penalised for offsides. Carter will be kicking into the thickest part of the fog … about 7m in from the left touchline … and the ball goes just wide of the right hand upright.
13min – The fog is now even thicker … it’s difficult to see what’s going on.
12min – Most of the game has been played inside Canes half, but they finally work their way into Saders territory and are awarded a penalty on the 10m line. Weepu will go for goal … and it’s over!
6min – Kaplan nails the Saders for an illegal turn at the scrum. Holwell can see the posts through the fog from here … but his penalty kick is just short. Must be difficult for the touch judges to see the ball too.
4min – Both teams are making use of the high ball in these conditions. Gear drops a kick from the Canes – we should see a lot of this today.
k/o – There is a heavy blanket of fog over Jade Stadium. While you can just see the players, you can’t see the crowd at all.
CRUSADERS: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Scott Hamilton, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Kevin Senio, 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Ross Filipo, 4 Chris Jack, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: 16 Tone Kopelani, 17 Campbell Johnstone, 18 Johnny Leo’o, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Stephen Brett, 21 Cameron McIntyre, 22 Caleb Ralph.
HURRICANES: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Lome Fa’atau, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 Tana Umaga, 11 Shannon Paku, 10 David Holwell, 9 Piri Weepu; 8 Rodney So’oialo (c), 7 Chris Masoe, 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Paul Tito, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 John Schwalger. Reserves: 16 Luke Mahoney, 17 Joe McDonnell, 18 Luke Andrews, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Brendan Haami, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Tamati Ellison.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)