The Runner Sports

Sam Whitelock And Crusaders’ Defense Hold On To Win Super Rugby Title

The Crusaders’ defense, in the same blistering form they have had all season, held the Lions down long enough to secure the 2017 Super Rugby Championship. The defensive strength of Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read allowed the Crusaders to hold off the Lions’ roaring comeback that has tripped up many teams this season. Whitelock and Read both matched up for 14 tackles on the day, although Read did end up with four missed tackles.

A winning defense does not mean a flawless one

The defensive performance was very good, even considering the Crusaders had an alarmingly low 72% tackle completion. The Crusaders made many mistakes in the middle portions of the field. While this allowed more running room for the Lions, it was offset by the Crusaders’ strong performance inside their own 22m. The Lions used their big forward pack to drive through the Crusaders defense at midfield. Although this was almost guaranteed to allow the Lions down into the 22m they did not progress well after that. The Crusaders would allow the Lions to run head first into a brick wall until eventually they would turn over the ball.

Even though the defense was very strong inside their own 22, both Lions tries did come from big forwards crashing across the line. These two tries, though, came from low phase attacks on goal, the more phases the Lions put together the less successful they were.

Kwagga Smith red card severely hindered the Lions

Just before the half time whistle, Elton Jantjies put the ball high. David Havili went up for the ball, and Kwagga Smith came underneath him and inverted Havili as his body headed for the ground. Although not a malicious play by Smith, it was a very dangerous play and earned him a red card.

Although the resurgence from the Lions did not occur until significantly later in the match, Smith’s presence would have considerably helped. The Crusaders’ try during the second half was strongly the product of the ability to get wide overlaps. An additional defender would have given Crusaders a significantly harder time in those scenarios.

Ross Cronje was kept in too long

Ross Cronje had a very difficult day on the pitch. His speed getting the ball out and decision-making was not up to his normally high quality. It is no coincidence that the Lions scored their first try within two minutes of Faf de Klerk coming on. Although de Klerk has struggled on the international scene, he has performed very well with the Lions. It is a shame to see de Klerk reduced in his role with the Lions considering his contributions there. There was discussion late in the first half of bringing on Faf De Klerk, but he did not make it on until the 60th minute. The change out was too late to have the necessary effect on the match.

Crusaders have been waiting a long time to regain the championship

While the Crusaders are the most successful team in Super Rugby, it’s been a while since they’ve tasted championship gold. 2008 was the last season that the Crusaders won Super Rugby. Every other New Zealand team besides the Blues have won a Super Rugby title since then. It has been a dominant time for New Zealand rugby and now the Crusaders are a part of it. The Lions were not able to seal the win, but have made good progress since last season. The Crusaders have been dominant all year long and are well deserving of the title.

Congratulations to both teams on a very impressive season. It will be great to see how both teams progress in the future.

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David Bradham

Active duty Navy, have a true passion for Rugby.
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