A cynical last-gasp knock-on by Crusaders captain Luke Whitelock broke the hearts of the Hurricanes in a semi-final that produced wonderful rugby in the second half of their match in Christchurch.
It was missed by the referee when Whitelock clapped the ball from the hands of opposing scrumhalf TJ Perenara in a ruck just 20 metres from the home side's tryline and with the Hurricanes in command.
The latter knocked on in trying to recover possession, the last scrum ensued with the ball being put into the scrum by the home side instead of a penalty (or at least a scrum) to the Hurricanes and Richie Mo’unga kicked the ball into touch for a 30-26 win.
Crusaders will be at home next week in the final against the Jaguares who earlier on Saturday had trounced the Brumbies 39-7 in Buenos Aires in the first semi-final.
In the first half it was all Crusaders, with the Hurricanes for some reason shying away from playing their renowned running game. They were deservedly 13-0 behind until about ten minutes before the break, when they had their first serious attacking play in Crusaders half.
They scored well after the halftime hooter to go into the break 13-7 behind and came out a different team after halftime.
Beauden Barrett, disappointing in the first half when he kicked too often (and not well at that) was his old self in the second half, running at the opposition, orchestrating his backline and keeping Crusaders on the defensive.
Any side could have won. Crusaders, by virtue of the much better first half, probably deserved the spoils – and the Hurricanes will take the trip to hometown Wellington with the realisation that scoring four tries to three wasn’t enough. They have failed again in a play-off against Crusaders who have now won all six their play-off battles with the Canes.
♦ In a match between the best two sides in New Zealand there were many stand-out players, lots of skill and technical expertise.
However, there were also enough little things that wily Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will have noticed as possible weaknesses to be exploited when the Boks face the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship and the first match in the World Cup.
Crusaders (13) 30: Tries: Sevu Reece (2), Richie Mo’unga. Conversions: Mo’unga (3). Penalties: Mo’unga (3).
Hurricanes (7) 26: Tries: Ngani Laumape (2), Ben Lam, TJ Perenara. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (3).