Mon, Aug 6, 1:16pm by Staff Writer
The 2018 Super Rugby season concluded on Saturday night with the Crusaders crowned Southern Hemisphere champions once again with a 37-18 victory against the Lions.
The Crusaders finished the regular season atop the Super Rugby standings and were in scintillating form during the finals series.
Despite dominating possession and field territory for much of the match, the Lions were unable to capitalise on numerous occasions.
Their trademark driving maul was stifled on three occasions in the first half by the Crusaders, with the visitors looking short of ideas in attack.
With only 30 per cent of territory in the first half and 37 per cent possession, the Crusaders punished the Lions on the rare occasions they had the ball.
A brilliant Seta Tamanivalu try gave the Crusaders a 10-3 advantage in the 20th minute and when David Havili crossed just before half-time, the home side were out to a commanding 20-3 lead.
The second half started similarly to the first, with the Lions owning possession but unable to score.
A Cyle Brink try out of nothing gave the Lions hope of a monumental comeback, until replacement Mitchell Drummond cut through the Lions defence and scored under the posts to give the Crusaders a 30-13 lead.
When hooker Malcolm Marx scored in the 67th minute, the Lions feint hopes of a win remained alive, until a Scott Barrett try from a quick lineout on half way extinguished the Lions season.
It is the ninth Super Rugby title for the Crusaders and their second in as many seasons.
Despite not featuring as many All Black players as their rivals the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders, the Crusaders chemistry and defence is what won them this season’s silverware.
The All Blacks have an embarrassment of riches in the 10 jersey, with Beauden Barrett likely to be the starting fly-half, despite the Crusaders’ Richie Mo’unga being the player of the season in Super Rugby.
Super Rugby returns in February 2019, with domestic rugby shifting to the National Rugby Championship in Australia, the Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand and the Currie Cup in South Africa.
Internationally, the Wallabies will again take part in the annual Rugby Championship that begins in less than a fortnight.
New Zealand has been victorious in the past two Rugby Championships and five of the past six and are priced at $1.30 at Sportsbet to repeat their recent efforts this season.
Australia and South Africa are both priced at $7 to take out the championship, with Argentina a big outsider at $67.
The first match on August 18 at NZ Stadium will also be the first of three Bledisloe Cup matches between Australia and New Zealand.
Australia has not hoisted the famous cup since 2002, with the remaining two matches taking place at Eden Park in Auckland on August 25 and at Yokohama Stadium in Japan in late October.
For the opening match of the Rugby Championship, Australia are $4.25 outsiders to win, with New Zealand $1.22 favourites.
The opening line is set at 10.5-points start to New Zealand at $1.90.
Rugby Championship Odds – Sportsbet
New Zealand $1.30
South Africa $7
Bledisloe Cup Game 1
Australia $4.25 New Zealand $1.22
Handicap: -10.5 New Zealand $1.90
Margin: Australia 1-12 $5, 13+ $15
New Zealand 1-12 $4, 13+ $2
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