The Most Memorable Finals in Super Rugby History
Super Rugby has produced its fair share of highlights in its short history. Since 1996 it has acted as the premier southern hemisphere rugby competition outside of internationals.
This weekend will mark the conclusion of its 19th season. It is set to be a great game between the two in-form teams of the competition.
Before this, though, take a moment to remember some of the great finals from years past.
1999: Southern Showdown
In the early years of Super Rugby, the Highlanders-Crusaders rivalry was far more pronounced than it is now. The two teams from New Zealand's South Island regularly enjoyed large amounts of support, even when playing at the other's home ground.
When the two met in Dunedin for the 1999 final then, it was nothing short of an electric atmosphere, with both teams well-represented in a very passionate crowd.
The Highlanders looked the more likely of the two teams in the first half. Jeff Wilson and Romi Ropati both made dangerous breaks, before Brian Lima finally scored their first try. He hit a short ball at a good angle to give the Highlanders a 14-6 lead, which would be pegged back to 14-9 at the break.
But the Crusaders fought their way back into the game and came into their own in the second half. A midfield defensive mis-read gave the Crusaders the lead, as Daryl Gibson touched down under the posts.
Then a brilliant solo effort from the magician, Afato So'oalo, put the Crusaders firmly in the box seat. So'oalo cleanly beat his fellow Samoan winger, Brian Lima, on the blind side from a scrum, before executing a chip and chase over All Black full-back, Jeff Wilson.
The Crusaders held their lead and ran out winners 24-19 in what was truly a memorable contest, both for its on-field action and off-field atmosphere.
2011: Genia's Try
It was remarkable that the Crusaders even made this final. Due to the earthquake that had destroyed their stadium, they were forced to play every game away from their Christchurch home.
They were not able to complete the fairy tale season, though, as Will Genia and the Brisbane crowd inspired the Reds to their first, and only, Super Rugby championship.
The key moment came with 12 minutes to go. Genia found a gap in the Crusaders defensive line after dancing around under pressure. He showed impressive pace to go all the way to score an unbelievable try which would break the 13-all deadlock and give the Reds an 18-13 win.
For this try alone, the game is memorable and would rate as one of the best ever in a Super Rugby final.
1996: Blues Blitz
Super Rugby was never better than in its first few years. The game was an open one, teams looked to play at pace and the breakdowns were not yet being officiated as strictly.
The very first Super 12 final epitomized this. Natal had done the Blues a favour, upsetting the Reds in Brisbane in their semi-final the week before. This meant the final would be played in Auckland.
Despite some up-and-down form along the way, the Blues really hit their straps for their playoff games.
They jumped out to a 20-3 lead after a dominant opening period, only for Natal to fight back late in the half.
It was all Blues in the second half, though, and the physical defence of their loose forwards negated the advantage Natal were gaining in the set piece. This laid the foundation for the lethal Blues back line to cut their opponents to pieces, with Carlos Spencer pulling the strings and the wing-combination of Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri wrecking havoc out wide.
They would eventually run out 45-21 winners in one of the more dominant Super Rugby final displays.
2009: The Rampaging Bulls
The year of 2009 was a good one for South African rugby and it all started with the Bulls.
Their huge forward pack gave them dominance up front, while in Fourie Du Preez and Morne Steyn they had an intelligent scrum-half and a deadly kicker. The back line was capable of playing running rugby, too, and resulted in them scoring some good long-range tries.
The trip across the Indian Ocean was just too much for the Chiefs, who were blown off the park by a rampaging Bulls side. It was every bit as one-sided as the 61-17 scoreline sounds. Never has a team been beaten so badly in a Super Rugby final.
It was not just through their forwards and Morne Steyn's boot that they dominated, though. They threatened on attack and Du Preez and Bryan Habana took their chances well to complete a quality all-round display of dominating rugby.
2006: The Fog Final
The 2006 Super 14 final was popularly dubbed "the best game I never saw."
An hour before kick-off a thick, low-lying fog descended on Jade Stadium. It made visibility very low and seeing from one side of the field to the other was not possible. The conditions proved just as frustrating for those at home, as the television cameras were forced to use on-ground cameras because the higher ones could not penetrate the fog.
It resulted in a messy game that was far more memorable for the conditions than its action. There was a lot of dropped ball and both teams employed tight game plans. When it was all said and done, the Crusaders walked away with a 19-12 victory, with Casey Laulala scoring the only try.
2000: The Improbable Three-Peat
It was on a freezing night in Canberra that the Crusaders picked up perhaps the most remarkable of their seven championships.
In their way stood a Brumbies team who had been dominant all season. They played a game based on phases, looking to keep ball in hand, recycle it quickly and break the defence down that way. At home they were near-unbeatable and had a defence that was well-organized and hard to breach.
Ironically, this was how the Brumbies played the final and they maintained their usual dominance. Only the Crusaders defence did not break down. They fanned out across the field and held the Brumbies to just one try, despite the fact that the Brumbies controlled the ball for nearly the whole second half.
The Crusaders' only try came from a brilliant opportunistic grubber and chase from No. 8 Ron Cribb.
It was not until the final stages that they claimed the lead for the last time. A penalty from a cramping Andrew Mehrtens delivered the final blow, allowing the Crusaders to escape with a 20-19 win.
The win is still considered one of the most remarkable efforts in Super Rugby history. It also marked the only three-peat ever achieved in the competition. Making this even more impressive, their championships were won in Auckland, Dunedin and Canberra; possibly the three toughest places to play during this era.
2007: Habana Robs the Sharks
The first time two South African teams contested the final was in 2007. It was a tightly contested game, but it was the final five minutes for which it is most memorable.
With time almost up, the Sharks crashed over and scored what many thought was a match-winning try from a pick-and-go to the right of the ruck. This gave them a 19-13 lead with a kick to put the game out of reach.
The kick was missed, though, and the Bulls retained the slimmest of chances.
It was going to take something truly special and that was just what Bryan Habana delivered. The maestro spotted a gaping hole in the Sharks defensive line in the middle of the field. His pace allowed him to change direction and beat the covering Sharks defenders, splitting the gap and touching down for an improbable 82nd-minute try.
Derick Hougaard kicked the goal and the Bulls snatched a 20-19 win.
1998: James Kerr's Last-Gasp Try
The 1998 Super 12 final still sticks out in the mind as the most memorable. It had it all. A close game, an exciting finish and resulted in a huge upset that stunned everyone.
It was a game won in the final quarter, where the Crusaders scored two tries to reel-in a lead that looked set to see the Blues claim their third straight Super 12 championship. The defining moment came in the dying stages. A wicked bounce saw Ofisa Tonu'u wrong-footed, allowing Crusaders winger James Kerr to score a match-winning try after a hard chase.
It reminded everyone of the value of never giving up on a play. The try broke the 13-all deadlock and gave the Crusaders a 20-13 win that surprised everyone.
Despite the closeness of the score early in the game, both teams had a positive game plan. There was a clear intent to move the ball and the lack of tries in the first half was indicative of the courageous defences.
The win saw the Crusaders go from last to first in the space of two years. It would be the start of what would make them the competition's greatest team, something they will look to add to this weekend.
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