4 Aug 2017

Super Rugby final: Making your moments count

3:37 pm on 4 August 2017

Rugby, like life, really does come down to a few key moments. Those moments can be far reaching, and you only have to look at a couple at Ellis Park over the past few weeks to see why.

Crusaders Ryan Crotty and Jordan Taufua run on to the paddock during the semi final, against the Chiefs.

Crusaders Ryan Crotty and Jordan Taufua run on to the paddock during the semi final, against the Chiefs. Photo: Photosport NZ

The Sharks looked destined to cause a playoff upset over the Lions, but they conceded a penalty.

It was a long way away from the posts, but Ruan Combrinck nailed the penalty shot to propel the Lions into a semi-final the following weekend against the Hurricanes.

Likewise, the Hurricanes seemed sure to roll the Lions, up 22-3 and about to run in a killer blow just before halftime.

Dane Coles uncharacteristically shelled a pass that would've been an easy try and a minute later the Lions started their improbable comeback: 22-3 eventually became 29-44, and now we find ourselves back at Ellis Park for the final match of Super Rugby in 2017.

Will this one come down to just one moment?

The Crusaders will be hoping it won't, because the last time they were in a Super Rugby final it came down to the worst possible time to have one.

That pulsating finale in 2014 was played in front of a record crowd in Sydney - hard to believe now, but the Waratahs were good back then.

They went punch and counterpunch with the Crusaders for the entire 80 minutes, and with a minute to go the score stood 30-29 to the visitors.

The Crusaders looked set for their eighth title, but none other than Richie McCaw gave away a penalty that was just inside Bernard Foley's range.

A terrible decision, or just punishment for a lifetime of cheating - depending on whether you were an All Black fan or not. Foley booted the ball through the sticks and the Waratahs denied the Crusaders in arguably the greatest final of them all.

That game was on a warm evening across the Tasman.

This one will be in the South African sunshine in front of 61,000 hostile Lions fans. Just like the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, and just like the other big loss Richie McCaw had to stomach in 2014: the last time the All Blacks went down to the Springboks.

Both of those epic test matches came down to a last-play triumph.

The Crusaders have had to contend with a trip over to Johannesburg this week, plus a storm of controversy around the appointment of South African referee Jaco Peyper.

If they're going to break their title drought, they can't let that disturb them. Their keys to victory lie in getting Richie Mo'unga front foot ball and containing the dangerous Lions midfield. An arm wrestle up front will suit them, as they possess an All Blacks tight five.

As for the Lions, they will prey on any mistakes the Crusaders make. They will not stop trying to score tries, and have learned a very valuable lesson in losing a final to the Hurricanes last year - make sure you play it at home.

Ellis Park hasn't been home to Super Rugby glory for many years. The last time the home side won anything was back in 1993, when it was Super 10 and no one got paid.

Their fans have suffered through 24 years of mostly awful rugby to get to this potentially glorious moment - so the Crusaders need to make sure every one of theirs count on Sunday morning.

*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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