Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after the 2018 Super Rugby final between the Crusaders and Lions in Christchurch:
1. You can dominate the scoreboard without the ball
Saturday’s final proved that teams making most of the play do not always end on the right side of the scoreboard.
The visitors had the lion’s share of territory (66%) and possession (56%) but were unable to make inroads for most parts.
The Crusaders' 37-18 win was built on a staunch defensive effort - they made 203 tackles compared to the Lions’ 135 - and were clinically efficient when opportunities came their way.
The Lions, on the other hand, let slip numerous attacking opportunities and will rue not executing when it mattered most.
2. Lions’ driving maul thwarted
The Lions’ driving maul was a major weapon in the 2018 season and one of the reasons they made it to a third consecutive Super Rugby final.
They scored 21 tries from driving mauls en route to the final but it proved ineffective when it mattered most.
Crusaders flank Matt Todd said earlier in the week that their forwards coach Jase Ryan would “come up with a good plan” for them to counter the Lions in that department.
Ryan’s plan worked to a tee and was evident from the first Lions driving maul when they went backwards at a rate of knots.
The Crusaders pushed the Lions’ maul attempts backwards several times and it played a massive role in the final outcome.
The Lions didn’t appear to have a Plan B and they were also not as dominant in the scrums as they would have hoped.
3. Dead ball controversy
A big turning point in the game came on the half-hour mark when Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies dotted the ball down after carrying it over the dead-ball line, handing the hosts a five-metre scrum.
Jantjies, who was covering a kick from his opposite number Richie Mo'unga, appeared to misunderstand the rules when he carried the ball over the tryline.
Jantjies could have dotted it down had the ball been on the tryline - which would have counted as being in-goal - but because the ball rolled back in-field, Jantjies couldn't move it back over the tryline.
It was a critical moment in the game as the Crusaders won a penalty off the ensuing scrum to go 13-3 ahead.
Two minutes later the hosts were 20-3 up after a nothing kick from Jantjies landed into the hands of Mo'unga, who broke spectacularly to set up a try for fullback David Havili.
Jantjies’ all-round performance was unfortunately again below-par in the pressure cooker scenario of a Super Rugby final.
4. Lions’ ‘scavengers’ less effective
Another strength of the Lions in the 2018 season was their ability to turn over position on the ground.
Here, hooker Malcolm Marx and flank Kwagga Smith did enormous ‘scavenging’ work.
Unfortunately, the two were not as prominent in this regard on Saturday.
Marx was watched like a hawk and while his muscular barge over the tryline in the 68th minute was impressive, I felt he was well contained by the Crusaders.
The pre-game hype of Marx being the best player in the world no doubt gave the Kiwis extra motivation and saw them prepare adequately.
Nick Mallett summed it up well in his post-game analysis: "At the breakdown, Marx was so efficient in the quarter- and semi-finals, but I don’t think he made a single turnover today because the quality of the cleans by the Crusaders was so good that he didn’t get the opportunities he normally gets."
5. All Blacks boast remarkable flyhalf depth
Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo'unga outshone his opposite number Elton Jantjies and thoroughly deserved his man-of-the-match accolade.
Earlier in the week, Mo'unga was challenged by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to produce the goods when it mattered most.
Hansen said Mo'unga was still behind Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie in the All Blacks pecking order and had to prove his worth in a big final.
Mo'unga obliged with a mature performance and played a role in all four of the Crusaders' tries.
He got his team on the front foot at crucial junctures and certainly did not buckle under the constant defensive threat.
Mo'unga proved that a flyhalf can steal the show even when living off scraps of possession for large parts...