Crusaders 24-13 Chiefs: Mo'unga seals Super Rugby Aotearoa title

By Sports Desk May 08, 2021

The Crusaders extended their Super Rugby dominance as Richie Mo'unga made three late clutch kicks to secure a 24-13 win over the Chiefs in Saturday's Aotearoa Grand Final.

For a fifth successive year, the Christchurch giants finished as champions in their competition, having been limited to all-New Zealand clashes in the last two seasons due to the pandemic.

The Chiefs, who finished bottom of the pile last season, defied expectations to reach this final at Orangetheory Stadium, but they could not take advantage of the Crusaders having two players sin-binned in the second half, briefly leaving them down to 13 men.

The underdogs made a disappointing start as they failed to prevent Mo'unga finding Sevu Reece to dot down the opening try after six minutes. Mo'unga added the extras, before Damian McKenzie pulled back three points with a penalty on 14 minutes.

Almost immediately, however, Will Jordan dashed through to gather David Havili's kick and nudge the Crusaders 12-3 ahead.

McKenzie was fed by a back-of-the-hand pass from Alex Nankivell as the Chiefs crossed in the 20th minute, continuing the barnstorming start to the match, and his conversion made it a two-point game.

That was the end of the try-scoring, however, as it became a match settled by the kickers, with Mo'unga slotting a penalty before half-time, which arrived moments after McKenzie missed the target.

McKenzie also squandered penalty chances twice early in the second half, as yellow cards in quick succession for Reece and Codie Taylor left the home side under-manned.

Belatedly, McKenzie found his range and hauled the Chiefs back to 15-13 as heavy rain fell, but Mo'unga showed nerves of steel to slot a drop goal in the 64th minute, and he added penalties in the 69th and 76th minutes to crush the challenge of the men from Waikato.

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    Two tries from Sotutu and one each for Dalton Papalii and Mark Telea helped the Blues carve out a 28-0 interval lead, with Telea denied another try in the second half after the TMO identified an infringement by team-mate Ray Niuia, who was yellow-carded.

    By that stage, a Western Force fightback was under way, tries from Feleti Kaitu'u and Tevita Kuridrani having narrowed the deficit, and Rob Kearney went over in the closing stages to cut the deficit to 10 points.

    However, the Blues, helped by 11 points from the boot of Otere Black, were not to be caught and they will face the Highlanders at Eden Park in the final next Saturday.

    Sotutu had darted in down the left for the opening try, and Telea struck just before the half-hour mark after the Blues withstood a period of Force pressure, with Papalii going over for the third.

    Sotutu barged through again just before the break, as the Blues piled on the points.

    Kaitu'u made the first dent in the Blues' big lead in the 49th minute, going over from close range, and Kuridrani brought the contest to life when he scythed in for a second Force try just seven minutes later. A penalty from Black eased the Blues' nerves, meaning Kearney's late effort was just a consolation.

    That result meant the Crusaders missed out on the final, with the Super Rugby champions each year from 2017 to 2019 seeing trophy hopes scuppered despite beating the Rebels 52-26 in Melbourne earlier in the day.

    Wing Sevu Reece pounced for a hat-trick in the eight-try Crusaders show, with Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Oliver Jager and Braydon Ennor also going over for the men from Christchurch, who finished third in the series.

    The top three sides finished level on 23 points from five games, with points difference settling the final places as the Blues took top spot with +119, the Highlanders second on +103, and the Crusaders (+97) agonisingly third.

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    The Lions last toured South Africa in 2009, when they lost the Test series 2-1.

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