6 Aug 2017

Super Rugby final: Forget the red card, this was already in the bag

7:21 am on 6 August 2017

Opinion - Somewhere, Sonny Bill Williams has a big smile on his face. For the next week at least, his infamous shoulder charge in the second test against the British & Irish Lions won't be the red card everyone is talking about.

Crusader Sam Whitelock celebrates winning the 2017 Super Rugby trophy at Ellis Park Stadium.

Crusader Sam Whitelock celebrates winning the 2017 Super Rugby trophy at Ellis Park Stadium. Photo: Photosport NZ

That honour now goes to Kwagga Smith, or more accurately Jaco Peyper - the man who gave it out.

Smith's collision with Crusaders fullback David Havili in the dying stages of this morning's Super Rugby final, like SBW's a month ago, fully warranted a red card. You could argue Smith wasn't intending to injure him, and that he even came off second best as Havili's hip connected harshly with the flanker's face.

Albertus Kwagga Smith's dangerous tackle on David Havili.

Albertus Kwagga Smith's dangerous tackle on David Havili. Photo: Photosport NZ

So it really was adding insult to injury when he had to make a long, lonely walk up the Ellis Park tunnel by himself to curse his bad luck and listen to the 62,000-strong crowd get increasingly frustrated at watching their team waste away their second Super Rugby final in a row.

At least last year they had the excuse of having to play on a freezing Saturday night in Wellington after a long trip over. This year the Lions had the deck firmly stacked in their favour, with a regular season draw that meant it would take some sort of freakish event for them not to finish first and guarantee home ground advantage for the playoffs.

And yet that's what almost happened courtesy of the brilliant Crusaders. One loss all season was all it took to leave them in second place overall at the end of the regular season, so the men from Christchurch found themselves in Johannesburg for the final.

The truth is, the damage had been done long before the red card had been shown. Just like last week against the Hurricanes, the Lions started poorly.

They were nervous, dropping passes that stuck any other game. They gave away possession and penalties, most crucially when Elton Jantjes was slammed to the turf by Kieran Read. The ball quickly ended up in the hands of Seta Tamanivalu, who had a straight run 60 metres downfield to score the opening try.

Seta Tamanivalu evades Ruan Combrinck and Ross Cronje of the Lions to score.

Seta Tamanivalu evades Ruan Combrinck and Ross Cronje of the Lions to score. Photo: Photosport NZ

Not long after, Jack Goodhue burst his way into the 22. A couple of rucks later, and the centre found himself on the end of some smart passing to score in the same corner that Tamanivalu had run in.

The first try was down to a bit of luck. The second was just good, skilfull footy involving a number of experienced All Blacks creating space for a teammate to cruise over.

One of those experienced players pushed the lead out to its insurmountable peak early in the second half. All Black captain Kieran Read coming running in off a perfect angle to score under the posts and leave the Lions with a mountain to climb just to come close.

Two out of those three crucial moments happened when the Lions had 15 men on the park, and it's highly unlikely it would've made much of a difference to stop the third.

You could make an argument that the Lions' pretty admirable comeback would've been even more effective with a full complement of players, but given the Crusaders seemed pretty comfortable playing a 'bend but don't break' defence, it wouldn't have been enough to get them to a maiden title.

Instead, it's the Crusaders that go home with their eighth. It's been a long time between victory parades in Christchurch, and they might even be treated to a display from rugby's only breakdancing coach.

* Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the single highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game, and other topics, to anyone who'll care to listen.

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