Top five Super Rugby finals

A common sight during the 2006 Super 14 final, when any kick became an instant lottery. Photo/Getty.
A common sight during the 2006 Super 14 final, when any kick became an instant lottery. Photo/Getty.

When the Chiefs host the Brumbies in Hamilton this weekend, it will be the 18th edition of the Super Rugby final.

Nzherald.co.nz takes a look at the top five finals since the competition started in 1996.

Super 12 final, 1996
Eden Park, Auckland
Blues 46 Natal 25

The 1996 final produced the perfect ending to the inaugural Super 12 season for the Blues.

They kicked off the competition by beating the Hurricanes in the first ever professional rugby match in the country, and ended it by thumping Natal 46-25 on a Sunday afternoon final infront of 46,000 people at Eden Park.

With a squad boasting names like Joeli Vidiri, Jonah Lomu, Carlos Spencer, Michael Jones, Zinzan Brooke and Sean Fitzpatrick, the result was never really in doubt, but the road to the final was a lot closer than many would have liked.

They only just scraped home 23-20 with a win over Natal in Durban in the last qualifying match to earn a top four spot, and were soundly thumped 51-13 by the Reds the previous week.

But this special group of players had an un-yielding spirit and pulled out the results when they needed to, helping to lay the foundation that would bring success again in 1997.

Super 12 final, 1998
Eden Park, Auckland.
Blues 13 Crusaders 20

The smart money was on the Blues to win the Super 12 crown for the third successive year when they met the Crusaders in the final in 1998.

They had topped the qualifying round-robin phase of the competition with eight wins from ten games and their two losses had come away from home in Natal and Brisbane.

So when Crusaders wing James Kerr - a draft player from Auckland - scored a late try to earn his side a 20-13 win, it caught many off guard.

In many ways the Crusaders outsmarted the Blues, particularly with the contrasting use of substitutes.

Crusaders coach Wayne Smith made shrewd use of his bench in what was still something of an innovation in the game. Henry, on the other hand held his replacements back, calculating that with the score 13-all for much of the second spell extra time might be needed.

Not many predicted the surprise result, but even fewer would have guessed that the Blues' successes in the next dozen or so years would be so meagre.

Super 12 final, 2000
Bruce Stadium, Canberra
Crusaders 20 Brumbies 19

The final that capped the Crusaders' three-peat, the first and only time in competition history a franchise has won a hattrick of titles.

The Canterbury Crusaders, as they were known back then, were for the first time under the guiding hand of Robbie Deans, who led them to second spot in the round robin behind the Brumbies.

With the World Cup and Bledisloe Cup already in the Australian trophy cabinet, the Brumbies were tipped to claim their first title to further demonstrate the shifting of rugby power across the Tasman.

But the Crusaders _ and, in particular, Andrew Mehrtens _ had something to say about that. In a match plagued by sleet and snow which limited the sides to one try each, the Brumbies looked to have won it with a penalty four minutes from time.

But Mehrtens stepped up a minute later to land his fifth penalty and snatch the trophy by a point.

Super 14 final, 2006
Jade Stadium, Christchurch
Crusaders 19 Hurricanes 12

This might have been the best Super Rugby final anyone has ever seen. Except, no one saw it.

Even the players involved struggled to see the other side of the field as a thick low-lying sea fog descended on Jade Stadium.

Herald rugby writer Wynne Gray said he put his laptop away after 10 minutes, so futile was the task of keeping up with the action from the media box.

Sky commentator Grant Nisbett had just as much trouble seeing the run of the play, deferring for much of the game to sideline eye Tony Johnston who called what he could see pitch-side.

"That one could've landed in the main street of New Brighton for all we know, Nisbo,'' Johnston once remarked.

The rugby itself was something of an afterthought amid the surreal spectacle. For the record, Casey Laulala scored the game's only try as the Crusaders won their sixth Super Rugby title.

Super 14 final, 2007
ABSA Stadium, Durban.
Bulls 20 Sharks 19

In the first all-South African Super Rugby final in 2007, The Sharks were leading the Bulls 19-13 as the clock struck 80 minutes.

But two minutes later the Bulls had somehow emerged Super 14 Champions. A converted Bryan Habana try deep into injury time spoiled the party for the 54,000 home fans as the Bulls walked away with their first title.

Habana was lucky not to be sin binned for this dangerous tackle on Sharks fullback Percy Montgomery just minutes into the match. The commentators stated that Habana should be booed every time he touched the ball throughout the rest of the game.

But as he dived over the line - just to the right of the sticks - in the 82nd minute, the home crowd was too stunned to boo, as Francois Hougaard slotted the simple conversion to win the match.

- APNZ

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