The Lions copped a first half red card and a Super Rugby Final defeat to the Crusaders in Johannesburg.
The Crusaders won 25-17 after leading 15-3 at halftime.
Kwagga Smith was rightly sent off in the 38th minute, with the Crusaders leading 12-3. The visitors would extend the lead to 25-3 on the hour before the Lions scored twice to give a hint that the most of remarkable comebacks may characterise the 2017 Super Rugby final, played out in front of capacity crowd of 63 000.
It wasn’t to be because the Crusaders were too good on the day and too good a team to surrender a 22 point and one man advantage. The (now) eight time Super Rugby champions’s legs looked gone in the final 10 minutes, but it’s a credit to their mental conditioning that they could still play the big moments to perfection.
The Crusaders are a super team and they gave the Lions a lesson in ‘Finals Footy’ for the 38 minutes when the teams were 15 on 15.
Every contest loses its edge when one team has a numerical advantage and something certainly went in the final when Smith was sent off.
There is no point in debating what could or would have happened for the last 42 minutes had it been a 15 on 15 clash. The Crusaders won, away from home, in front of the most demanding of crowds and in an environment that would have suffocated lesser teams.
Commend the Kiwis for what is an unbelievable victory and statement.
The Crusaders are once again tournament record breakers and record makers. They have now won the tournament eight times from 12 Finals. They are the only team to win four finals away from home and the only team to have travelled to Australia and South Africa in the tournament’s 20 year history to win an away final.
The Lions are a quality side. They had to be to stay in touch with a 22 point deficit and a man down.
But on the day they simply weren’t good enough when you assess those first 38 minutes when it was 15 on 15.
South African referee Jaco Peyper was brilliant in his officiating. He made a statement that class and quality of officiating are more significant than nationality.
The Crusaders are the champions and the Lions, second on this day, remain a champion team.
Crusaders 25 (Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Kieran Read tries; Richie Mo’unga 2 con, 2 pen) Lions 17(Malcolm Marx, Corne Fourie tries; Elton Jantjies 2 con, pen). HT: 15-3.