The invisible hand of the Whitelock edition.
Ratings for the games:
Jaguares Brumbies: 2.5/10
Crusaders Hurricanes: 8/10
Jaguares 39 – Brumbies 7: Never a game. Jags dominated every facet of the game save one: the scrum. On that note, they were fortunate to only get the scrum collapsed call early as they were heavily penalized later on. Otherwise, complete Argentine dominance. Brumbies were down early and were not a team built to come back from a deficit. Particularly impressive was the Jaguares’s defensive lineout efforts. The pinnacle of Brumby achievement all season, the rolling maul, was effectively neutered and the Canberra side could not recover.
Crusaders 30 – Hurricanes 26: This was the game the other semifinal was supposed to be. All action, full excitement! A subplot of Richie Mo’unga vs Beauden Barrett played out in spectacular fashion. First half saw the Canes kicking possession away and the Crusaders were happy to take it, running out to an early lead. However, BB flipped the script later and made some truly wonderful moves from his own half, including a chip to himself right through the middle of the Saders’s line. Sevu Reece showed his finishing ability again, though he was out of position defensively more than once. All this back and forth leading up to the Canes with ball in hand on the Saders’s five meter line, where a ruck forms and the invisible hand of Sam Whitelock rakes the ball from TJ Perenara’s hands. A knock on is called, and the game is cooked. I want to note that I do not think this costed the Canes the game; indeed they had many other opportunities and this was not even a guaranteed score. A calculated gamble by the cleverly cynical Crusader, who would have known giving up a penalty would still see his team win by one if converted.
It bears noting the body language of players for both beaten teams. I think the nature of the defeats has some impact, to be sure. That said, the Brumbies appeared to depart the field without much thought to the whipping they had just received, the end of their club record run of form, and deepest finals push. The Hurricanes, having won the competition in recent memory with many players from that team still on the side, were visibly crushed. Particularly TJP, Ardie Savea, and Beauden Barrett were downright crestfallen. The reader can interpret this as is seen fit.
The Final Whistle:
Crusaders have never lost playoff rugby at home. The Jaguares have improved many aspects of their game, with a most notable one being discipline. If the Jags can keep their cool, they will have a reasonable chance to win their maiden title. If not, prepare for another year of “discussion” surrounding whether the Crusaders or Saracens are the premier club team in the world.