A Ritchie Mo’unga kicking masterclass saw the Crusaders successfully defend their Super Rugby title with a 19-3 victory over the Jaguares in Christchurch on Saturday.
The defending champions were gunning for a record 10th crown, while the South Americans were contesting their first ever final.
After surviving an early onslaught in the opening 10 minutes from the hosts, the Jaguares found their groove and pushed their way to the opposition territory, where they spent a considerable amount of time.
They were rewarded as they got an opportunity to get in front from the tee, and Joaquin Diaz Bonilla did not err as he put his side three ahead in the 16th minute.
The lead lasted 11 minutes as Matt Todd effected a turnover inside Jaguares territory, combining with Sam Whitelock to release Codie Taylor, who dived over for the ‘Saders opening score. Richie Mo’unga added the extra two to extend the lead.
The South Americans could have finished the first half in the lead, but a superb last gasp tackle from David Havili on Matias Moroni knocked the greasy ball off the winger’s hands to keep the hosts ahead.
The home side were not done in the half as, after the hooter had sounded, they ran the ball from a scrum in their own 22, making it to the opposition 10, where a breakdown infringement earned them a penalty.
Mo’unga’s kick was perfect, sending the two teams to the tunnel with the Crusaders leading 10-3.
The second half started with the Crusaders in the ascendancy, as they camped in Jaguares territory for a good 10 minutes, eventually crossing the whitewash through a rolling maul, but Todd – who had ball in hand – could not touch down through great defence from the visitors.
The resultant scrum was, however, dominated by the home side, who won a penalty in front of the posts, Mo’unga again making no mistake from the tee to stretch the lead to 10 points.
The Crusaders led 16-3 at the hour mark, with Mo’unga’s unerring boot punishing yet another infringement.
With forays into opposition territory few and far in between for the Jaguares, the bounce of the ball went against them when they had a rare opportunity, with Moroni attempting to chase down a Bonilla punt that ended up touch in-goal.
The next points would come from the other end, with M’ounga nailing a kick 45 metres out near the touchline in what would be his last action of the game as he was hauled off – replaced by Mitchell Hunt with his side 19-3 up with four minutes to go.
There would be no way back for the valiant Jaguares, who had to settle for second prize with the Crusaders claiming their third title on the bounce.