A solid Crusaders defence, numerous mistakes by the Lions and a red card were the downfall of Joburg’s fiercest in their highly-anticipated Super Rugby final.
While the game at Emirates Airline Park saw the tournament’s all-time attendance record of 62 000 people on 5 August, the whole country got behind the Lions, a team that in recent years has stood head and shoulders above other South African teams in performance and success, and epitomised the rugby South Africans want to see.
— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) August 5, 2017
Yet the game did not go according to plan, and the excitement that built up in Joburg ahead of the final was only matched by the disappointment of how the game went. The lions lost 25–17.
Coach Johan Ackermann, who will now head to the UK to coach Gloucester, would have liked to lift the Lions’ first Super Rugby trophy in his last game as coach. Such a devastating defeat would have been all the more painful to bear for him.
The Crusaders opened the scoring in the eighth minute after a ball fell loose for Seta Tamanivalu to run down the side and score a try. Richie Mo’unga converted to make it 7–0.
A try from an overlap in the 12th minute for the New Zealanders put the Lions under further pressure. Mo’unga missed the conversion, leaving it 12–0.
Come on lions your better than that horrible start #SuperRugbyFinal
— The Ghost writer (@Just_Kgonthe) August 5, 2017
Emirates lions being put to the sword by the Crusaders #SuperRugbyFinal 2017
— Munashe Tinorwa (@munashe4x1) August 5, 2017
Mistakes by the Lions did not allow them to get close to the try line in the first half hour, although in the 26th minute a successful penalty kick by Elton Jantjies put the first three points on the board for the Lions.
The Crusaders defended well and controlled territory for the majority of the first half, while several attacking runs by the Lions looked increasingly dangerous.
Yet the Crusaders’ defence held and such was the desperation of the Lions to win some territory and put the Crusaders under pressure, that Lions flanker Kwagga Smith dashed after a high ball at full tilt and in a nasty collision took out a New Zealander in mid-air to receive a red card.
the Lions were already chasing the game,that red card though kinda just put the final 2 bed,too steep a hill 2nd half imo #SuperRugbyFinal
— Maxwell (@Maxwell_kaunga) August 5, 2017
This time the Lions were on the receiving end of a match-changing card from referee Jaco Peyper, who awarded the controversial yellow card to Hurricanes fly-half Beauden Barrett in their semi-final.
The Lions would have to play out of their socks to beat a team at least as good at them, with one player off.
A successful penalty kick by Mo’unga heaped further pressure on the Lions and made it 15–3 at half time.
The Lions’ woes continued immediately after the break when Kieran Reid scored a try under the posts. Mo’unga converted to make it 22–3.
— David D (@davokiwi) August 5, 2017
Mo’unga kicked another penalty successfully in the 53th minute to make it 25–3.
Every time the Lions came close to the Crusaders try line, they lost the ball and had to re-work the ball again from their own half.
The dynamism and impact that characterised the Lions attack throughout the competition was missing.
Respite finally came in the 64th minute when Malcolm Marx put down a team try before Jantjies converted to make it 25–10 to the Crusaders.
Another try in the 73rd minute by Corne Fourie, and a conversion by Jantjies made it 25–17. Trailing by eight points, the Lions felt they were in the match in the last minutes and their best play came at the end of the game.
Unfortunately the Crusaders’ tackling and line-out steals never allowed the Lions to score again.