Former Springboks coach Nick Mallett believes the controversial finish to the Crusaders' Super Rugby semi-final win was a credit to their 'street smarts'.

With two minutes on the clock, the Hurricanes were in position to launch an attack, but referee Nic Berry called a knock on against TJ Perenara to put an end to their hopes as the Crusaders took out the match 30-26.

Replays appeared to show Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock had reached over the breakdown and illegally swiped the ball from Perenara's grasp.

Mallett said the vastly experienced Whitelock was "street-smart" and the product of good coaching with his act of desperation. A penalty wouldn't have allowed the Hurricanes to have kicked a goal to win but they could have set up one final drive at the Crusaders line through a lineout or scrum.

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"A ruck is formed and as TJ Perenara's picks up the ball, one of Sam Whitelock's hands goes in there and just knocks the ball out of Perenara's hands as he's about to pick it up. It's an instantaneous, and very clever, thing to do," Mallett said in his analysis role for South African TV.

Crusaders Jack Goodhue and Richie Mo'unga, right, celebrate after defeating the Hurricanes in their Super Rugby semifinal in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Crusaders Jack Goodhue and Richie Mo'unga, right, celebrate after defeating the Hurricanes in their Super Rugby semifinal in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

"I also thought that sort of action is down to brilliant coaching. It's just being street-smart in a vital period of the game because the momentum was 100 per cent with the Hurricanes in those last four minutes. You had that feeling that they were going to get over the line.

"What Whitelock did was up to the referee to spot because the TMO (television match official) can only come in for an act of foul play and that doesn't justify itself as foul play.

"So it was just something that was missed by the referee and I imagine that the Crusaders are delighted that he did."

Perenara was left frustrated by he call.

"We know it's a penalty," Perenara said after the game. "The ref can't see everything. He makes a call, and calls it a knock on.

"Sometimes we expect a penalty, there, for a deliberate knock down; but it is what it is in a game of footy."

Hurricanes coach John Plumtree agreed with Perenara.

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"I think something happened in that last ruck that you guys (the media) might want to have a look at, at some point," Plumtree said.