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Crusaders win 7th Super Rugby Pacific title

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – Seven out of seven. Scott Robertson ended his seven-year tenure as Crusaders head coach with a seventh title after his Christchurch-based team beat the Chiefs 25-20 in the final of Super Rugby Pacific yesterday.

Robertson has celebrated every title distinctively by break-dancing on the pitch surrounded by his players and he did so again in Hamilton after a win sealed only in the last eight minutes.

He now steps down to await the start of his All Blacks tenure after the World Cup in France in September.

Hooker Codie Taylor scored the second of his two tries from lineout drives in the 72nd minute to give the Crusaders a 22-15 lead after the Chiefs had rallied from 15-10 down at halftime to lead 20-15.

Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga converted the try and then kicked a penalty in the last minute to seal the win in his last act for the Crusaders before leaving to play in Japan.

The Chiefs had looked like capping a record-breaking season when they snatched the lead after halftime with a try by new All Blacks winger Emoni Narawa, and extended the lead to five points with a penalty from flyhalf Damian McKenzie.

But the Crusaders finally broke the resilient Chiefs defence with Taylor’s try, his 42nd from lineout drives for the Crusaders.

ABOVE & BELOW: Crusader players celebrate after defeating the Chiefs in the Super Rugby Pacific final in Hamilton, New Zealand; and Luke Jacobson of the Chiefs tackles Will Jordan. PHOTO: AP

“We said at the start of the year to get to heaven we’d have to go through hell and we did that earlier in the season and really finished it off tonight,” Taylor said.

He was referring to the many injuries the Crusaders had to overcome to win the title for the 12th time since the tournament began in 1996.

The Chiefs were pacesetters throughout the tournament, winning a club record 13 of 14 matches in the regular season and 15 from 16 coming into a home final.

They scored the first try of the match through fullback Shaun Stevenson in the 25th minute.

But Taylor’s first try in the 28th minute and another by Mo’unga in the 36th gave the Crusaders their 15-10 lead at the break.

The Chiefs rallied superbly in the second half and shut down the Crusaders for long periods.

Narawa scored his try in the 43rd minute, winning back the lead for the Chiefs at 17-15, and then another disallowed in the 56th.

McKenzie dashed into to claim an over-thrown Crusaders lineout and linked with Narawa, who scored. But the referee ruled that McKenzie had encroached inside 10 metres for the lineout and therefore was offside. That decision and many others that went in favour of the Crusaders are likely to be debated for several days. Chiefs co-captain Brad Weber said he was “gutted” by the loss “but I think a championship is definitely within these guys. It didn’t happen tonight but it certainly will happen”.

The Chiefs were attempting to win their third Super Rugby title and their first since 2013.

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said: “I don’t know how we got away with that. The Chiefs were the form team all season. We knew it was going to be a heck of a job and it turned out to be that tonight.”

The Chiefs battled throughout against three yellow cards, two in the first half and another to co-captain Sam Cane in the second. “It hurts to come up short right at the end there,” Cane said. “A lot of credit absolutely must go to the Crusaders tonight. They’ve been the best for a number of years now and managed to show that again.”

Robertson took charge of the Crusaders in 2017, after they had gone eight years without a title. They now have won a trophy in every season since he became head coach. He also won four titles for the Crusaders as a player.

“I should be emotional but I’m not,” Robertson said. “This is a special group. I think there were five guys on the field who were there in 2017. The coaching staff has re-invented itself over the years and there have been some key players, one’s Richie and one’s Sam (Whitelock). I’m just really proud.”

Lock Whitelock was man of the match in his 178th and last match before he heads to France.