Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Lions put bite on tired Crusaders

Lions 42 Crusaders 25
The Lions' Rohan Janse van Rensburg scores a try during their quarter-final against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
The Lions' Rohan Janse van Rensburg scores a try during their quarter-final against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty

Todd Blackadder's dream of leading the Crusaders to a title he won so often as a player is over, the Lions clear-cut winners of their quarter-final in Johannesburg this morning.

This was a particularly disappointing way to finish for Blackadder, who will now leave the franchise, along with his assistants Tabai Matson and Dave Hewett.

Previously only vulnerable to New Zealand sides this season, this match was a bridge too far for a team sent on the road by their calamitous 35-10 defeat to the Hurricanes in Christchurch last weekend.

As so often is the case at Ellis Park, the match wasn't without controversy, with referee Craig Joubert, who cost Blackadder's men the title in the final against the Waratahs with his late penalty in 2014, particularly harsh on the Crusaders, sinbinning Luke Romano after only five minutes, and South African TMO Marius Jonker awarding the home side their second try despite the evidence of a knock-on.

All of which may appear tough on the Lions, who deserved their victory, although the margin of defeat blew out as the Crusaders were forced to chase the game due to their atrocious opening quarter. In the end, it was clear cut - the Lions clearly the fresher team after virtually their entire starting line-up stayed home rather than play in the defeat to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, and the Crusaders beaten down from the start.

They needed a bit of luck after only arriving mid-week due to a lack of flights to South Africa, and without wing Nemani Nadolo, but they must have felt as if the whole world was against them as they bounced from one setback to another. It was the same story at the start of the second half, the Crusaders edging back into it with a penalty to close the gap to 22-13, but from there the Lions went up a gear.

The Crusaders, who beat the Lions at Ellis Park during the round-robin this season, were only a try away from putting a real scare into the home side, but they failed to get the bounce of the ball, and their willingness to offload it no matter the circumstances amounted only to constant turnovers.

They shouldn't feel ashamed to have fallen at this hurdle given the loss of experienced players Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Colin Slade after last season, but, after topping the New Zealand conference at the June break, the fall down the table and out of the competition will leave a bitter taste.

One of the positives will be the development of No10 Richie Mo'unga, who looks a player of real talent and composure, but he was often on the back foot this morning.

From the opening whistle, wing Courtnall Skosan took advantage of a missed Romano tackle to speed away down the blindside and into the left corner after only two minutes and it got worse moments later when Romano was yellow carded without warning by referee Joubert for "swimming" around an attacking lineout drive.

His absence allowed second-five Rohan Janse van Rensburg to score despite lock Franco Mostert clearly losing the ball on the line in the lead-up to the try. TMO Jonker was asked to rule on the possible knock-on by Joubert, but Jonker replied there was no "clear and obvious" discretion and the try stood.

Still, with the Crusaders gradually retaining possession and disrupting the Lions' lineout, and wing Johnny McNicholl troubling the home side with his pace on the right, Blackadder's men were rewarded with centre Ryan Crotty finishing from close range.

The Lions had the last say of the half, however, with another try a minute from halftime, lock Malcolm Marx scoring from a lineout drive.

Halfback Mitch Drummond's try again gave the Crusaders hope, narrowing the score to 28-20, but again the Lions kicked away, with Ruan Crombrinck and Ross Cronje scoring. Ben Volavola scoring a consolation try for the Crusaders at the end.

Along with the coaches, halfback Andy Ellis and wings Nemani Nadolo and McNicholl, among others, will also say goodbye to the Crusaders. After eight years at the Crusaders for Blackadder as coach, now it's up to Scott Robertson.

Lions 42 (Courtnall Skosan, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Malcolm Marx, Ruan Combrinck, Ross Cronje tries; Elton Jantjies 4 cons, Jantjies 2 pens, dropped goal)
Crusaders 25 (Ryan Crotty, Mitch Drummond, Ben Volavola tries; Richie Mo'unga 2 pens, 2 cons)
Halftime: 22-10

- NZ Herald

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