The Christchurch-based Crusaders beat Argentina's Jaguares 19-3 in the Super Rugby final Saturday to win the southern hemisphere tournament for the third year in a row and the 10th time overall.
Scott Robertson, who won three titles with the Crusaders as a player, has now won the championship in each of his three years as head coach. He celebrated in the now traditional fashion by break-dancing on the field at the Christchurch Stadium as his players stood around decked with winners' medals.
The 18,000-seat stadium, a "temporary" facility developed in the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, was filled to capacity on a bitterly-cold evening, including by many exuberant fans of the Jaguares whose coach Gonzalo Quesada guided them to their first final in his first year in charge.
Those fans saw Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo'unga punctuate the game with four penalties and the conversion of the only try, scored by hooker Codie Taylor.
"Defense won it again for us," Robertson said. "It feels like the last three weeks have been finals.
"We had to get back to basics, we had to get old school and just plug it into the corners. (Flanker) Matt Todd made 100 tackles and we just found a way."
The Crusaders had 12 All Blacks in their starting 15 and the Jaguares are almost all members of the Argentina national team, bringing a test-match intensity to the final just over two months from the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
For the first 10 minutes, the Crusaders camped in Jaguares territory but couldn't break a willing defense.
For the next five minutes the Jaguares attacked and the first points of the game came in the 15th minute when Joacquin Diaz Bonilla goaled from a scrum penalty. By halftime it was the Crusaders who had to make almost twice as many tackles as their opponents.
The Jaguares rushed up in defense and tackled around the legs, putting players on the ground and allowing them to quickly contest at the breakdown. That forced the Crusaders to try and pass out of contact and in frosty conditions they made handling errors, 6-1 in the first quarter.
The first try of the match, in the 25th minute, came from a chance turnover and superb work from the Crusaders tight forwards. Flanker Matt Todd forced a turnover after a high kick. The ball moved quickly to lock Sam Whitelock who dashed down the left touchline, passing inside to Taylor.
Jaguares winger Matias Moroni missed a scoring chance near the end of the first half, losing the ball in two tackles near the goal line. The Crusaders broke out late, won a penalty and went to halftime leading 10-3.
Moroni had a chance again at the start of the second half when he reclaimed his own kick on the right flank but his pass to Matias Orlando was lost. The Crusaders were forced again to make many tackles and their defense proved equal to the task.
Todd was held up over the line in the 51st minute and, when the Crusaders bulldozed the ensuing scrum, Mo'unga kicked a penalty for a 13-3 lead. As the scales tipped a little in the Crusaders' favor Mo'unga goaled for a 16-3 lead after 59 minutes.
Moroni, again, had a chance from a cross kick in the 68th minute but the bounce beat him across the dead ball line.
That was the last gasp from the Jaguares, who played superbly. Mo'unga landed a long-range penalty in the 75th minute to put the result beyond doubt.
The Jaguares still rose to the occasion, despite the disadvantages of long-distance travel and the necessity of facing a team on a 30-game winning streak at home.
"We knew it was a final in which we had to be clinical and to take advantage of any little opportunity," Quesada told Sky Sports. "I think that's where the Crusaders were better than us. They really only had one chance to score a try and they got it. Maybe with the one or two chances we had we couldn't take them."
Quesada said the kicking option the Jaguares employed was due to the Crusaders' defense but also the slippery condition of the ball.
"Any turnover today was going to be complicated for the other team and I think that was why our kicking game was not as precise as it should have been," he said. "But that was also due to the Crusaders defense. They gave us no time and they put us under a big amount of pressure and our accuracy was not there."
Quesada said it had been a goal of the season to keep on improving and the team's strong performance this season was good for rugby internationally.
"The Crusaders were better than us in a lot of aspects today but I don't think the score was as big as it finished," he said, adding he was "super proud" to have his team in the final.© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.