Crusaders emerge victorious in the fog

By Daniel Gilhooly

Crusaders 19 Hurricanes 12

The Crusaders confirmed their status as the kings of Super rugby by beating the Hurricanes 19-12 in a surreal Super 14 final played in thick fog at Jade Stadium here tonight.

The team who won five of the 10 Super 12 titles before the competition expanded this year were too polished for a Hurricanes team playing in their first final.

However, the biggest talking point was the conditions, with a lack of visibility creating an at-times farcical affair.

Conditions worsened as the match wore on and sections of the crowd in the multi-storied Western Stand were reportedly forced to leave the ground because they couldn't see the field. Television coverage was also adversely affected.

The conditions ruined what many had predicted would be quality spectacle between two in-form teams laden with All Blacks.

Instead it was a stop-start affair, marred by handling errors and an inability by players to field numerous kicks cleanly.

The Crusaders, beaten just once this season, deserved to win by more such was their dominance but they struggled to break through a Hurricanes defence that has been water tight for the past month.

The hosts only led 6-3 at halftime and the scores were level at 9-9 entering the final quarter before centre Casey Laulala darted over for the game's only try to put them clear.

The forward battle was abrasive throughout but the Hurricanes scrum struggled, not helped by a knee injury incurred early in the game by tighthead prop Neemia Tialata, who played on regardless.

The Crusaders, led by lock Chris Jack, also ruled the lineouts. That was largely because the visitors rarely threw the ball in, having just one throw-in in a first half which they spent mostly scrambling out of defence.

Despite their possession and territorial advantage, the Crusaders trailed 0-3 until the half-hour mark but first five-eighth Carter landed two penalties shortly before the break.

Earlier Hurricanes halfback Piri Weepu put the visitors in front in the 13th minute. His penalty came just moments after being momentarily knocked unconscious attempting a tackle on opposite number Kevin Senio.

Hurricanes first five-eighth David Holwell made the score at 6-6 with a penalty soon after the break.

Carter's third penalty restored their three-point advantage but Jimmy Gopperth, who had replaced Holwell, levelled the scores in the 56th minute.

Five minutes later Laulala finally broke through the yellow wall, slipping the tackle of Weepu on a cut back and diving over in two tackles.

Carter and Gopperth traded penalties before the Hurricanes finally played with some width in the final 10 minutes in a desperate but fruitless bid for a converted try to force the game into extra time.

Earlier Canterbury Rugby Union chief executive Hamish Riach said a postponement of the game was considered because of the difficult conditions.

The union consulted both teams before kickoff, along with the New Zealand Rugby Union, and governing body Sanzar and before deeming the match would go ahead. It was deemed player safety wouldn't be affected and that it would be too difficult logistically to put the game back a day.

Meanwhile, injuries which saw Weepu, Tialata and Hurricanes flanker Chris Masoe all require treatment may place them in doubt for selection in the large All Blacks squad to be announced tomorrow morning.

Crusaders 19 (Casey Laulala try, Daniel Carter 4 pen, con)
Hurricanes 12 (Jimmy Gopperth 2 pen, Piri Weepu pen, David Holwell pen).
HT: 6-3.

- NZPA

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