Crusaders create history with eighth Super Rugby title
THE Crusaders are kings of Super Rugby for the eighth time after defeating the Lions 25-17 at Ellis Park.
In beating the Lions in Johannesburg, the Crusaders became the first team to cross the Indian Ocean to win the championship.
Their eight-point win was also just the second time a team has won outside of their own country - a feat the Crusaders achieved in 2000 when they won in Canberra to down the Brumbies.
After final losses against the Waratahs in 2014 and the Reds in 2011 during Todd Blackadder's eight-year tenure, the victory also snapped a nine-year drought in Scott Robertson's first season as head coach.
For every winner there is a loser and for the second straight year the Lions were confined to second place, after going down against the Hurricanes 20-3 in Wellington 12 months ago.
It also meant there was no fairy tale exit for coach Johan Ackermann, who will join Gloucester immediately ahead of the English Premiership.
"It's amazing, the whole group's been working hard the whole year, and it's not just the boys here, it's the guys at home," captain Sam Whitelock said.
"I'm just so proud of the boys and the way they fronted, especially today.
"We knew we had to keep playing, keep attacking, and full credit to them - they put us under a massive amount of pressure.
"The boys just showed that true grit."
If they didn't already know, the Wallabies have been issued another warning.
The Crusaders' forward pack makes up the bulk of the All Blacks forwards and on the evidence of what we saw in Johannesburg, where playing at altitude pushes players to the point of breaking, they're not showing any signs of slowing.
The ability of these players to rise and rise again is simply extraordinary.
Let's not forget that these players less than a month ago were coming to an end of a truly amazing series against the British and Irish Lions.
To lift after such a colossal series shows their mental strength.
The opening Bledisloe Test is only a fortnight away, but you can bet your last dollar on the fact that when Frenchman Jerome Garces blows the whistle in Sydney that the All Blacks will be ready.
The All Blacks and Sonny Bill Williams breathed a sigh of relief earlier in the week when the dual international was controversially cleared for the Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney on August 19.
It's not like the All Blacks would have been sweating too much, given the extraordinary depth in New Zealand.
But from what we've seen all year and witnessed once again at Ellis Park, Ryan Crotty is the frontrunner for the All Blacks No 12 jersey.
The 28-year-old, who recently re-signed with New Zealand rugby for another season, was outstanding in the final and was awarded man of the match.
His line-speed in defence set the tone early for the Crusaders and his straight running, which often saw him beat the first man, was highly effective against the Lions.
Crotty suffered a hamstring injury during the first Test against the British and Irish Lions and missed the final two Tests.
At this stage, Crotty and Chiefs centre Anton Lienert-Brown shape as the All Blacks' midfield combination to face the Wallabies, with Williams off the bench.