Crusaders hold off brave Lions for eighth Super Rugby title
Super Rugby's most decorated team added an eighth title to their haul on Saturday as the Crusaders held off a brave Lions fightback to win 25-17 at Ellis Park.
The New Zealand side started strongly and a red card for Lions flanker Kwagga Smith late in the first half proved a blow from which the home side could not recover in their bid to land a maiden Super Rugby crown, despite their best efforts.
Having led 15-3 at the break, the Crusaders added another 10 before tries from Malcolm Marx and Corne Fourie earned 2016 runners-up the Lions some consolation, as the Crusaders clinched their first silverware since 2008.
The result marks the first time since 2000 that a Super Rugby final has been won by a team playing outside their own country, the Crusaders beating the Brumbies in Australia on that occasion.
The Crusaders, who were beaten to top spot in the overall standings by the Lions in the last round of regular-season fixtures, moved ahead when Seta Tamanivalu surged down the left wing unchallenged after the ball popped out of a ruck deep in the visitors' half in the eighth minute.
Richie Mo'unga added the extras and it was not long before the Crusaders were celebrating once more, Jack Goodhue diving low into the corner to stretch the advantage to 12-0.
The Crusaders continued to press but Israel Dagg was forced into a knock-on as he looked to pop the ball back inside for a certain try after 17 minutes.
Having failed to convert his side's second try, Mo'unga was again off target with a penalty from the halfway line, before Elton Jantjies finally got the Lions off the mark from the tee.
The home side boldly turned down another shot at three points soon after, opting instead to kick for touch. The decision did not pay off and a bigger blow was to follow.
An airborne David Havili was sent spinning head first into the turf when he was caught by Smith as he jumped to meet a high ball.
Referee Jaco Peyper deemed the Lions man's play to be reckless, reaching for a red card that severely dented the hosts' chances.
If the home crowd felt dispirited by that development, Kieran Read's converted try within four minutes of the second half getting under way may have dealt the killer blow to any lingering hopes of a turnaround.
Mo'unga added another three-pointer to carry the Crusaders into a 25-3 lead, but the Lions gave themselves a fighting chance when Marx powered over after 64 minutes and Jantjies split the posts to bring up double figures.
Lions fans - who saw their team pull off a remarkable comeback victory over the Hurricanes in the semi-finals - dared to believe and Fourie further fuelled that optimism by crashing under the posts with seven minutes to play.
But it was not to be for the Lions, who ran out of time to complete the turnaround in Johan Ackermann's final match at the helm before he takes over at Premiership club Gloucester.