JOHANNESBURG – The Lions were second best in a Super Rugby final for a second consecutive year, as they lost 17 -25 to the Crusaders at a sold out Ellis Park Stadium on Saturday.
The Lions were reduced to 14 men late in the first half after Albertus Smith was red carded for tackling Crusaders fullback David Havili while he was in the air.
The Canterbury Crusaders showed all their precision and guile to claim an eighth Super Rugby title with a 25-17 victory over South Africa's Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Tries from wing Seta Tamanivalu, centre Jack Goodhue and number eight Kieran Read extended the Crusaders' record as the most successful team in the competition.
The home side hit back after losing Smith, with two tries in the final 15 minutes through hooker Malcolm Marx and prop Corne Fourie to add some life to the closing stages, but the Crusaders closed out the match.
They become the first side to cross the Indian Ocean to win the Super Rugby final. The Lions are still waiting for their first title, having now been losing finalists twice running.
There were guts from the home side, but no glory in what was the final match in charge for coach Johan Ackermann, who will join English side Gloucester this coming week.
"It's amazing, it's not just the boys here, but also the people at home and our families. We just believed in ourselves and the energy in the whole team was amazing," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said at the post-match presentation.
"The Lions have scored a massive amount of points in the final 20 minutes and they put us under massive pressure."
The home side had plenty of possession in the first half, but found the Crusaders defensive wall impenetrable. By contrast, the visitors displayed their clinical touch with two tries inside the opening 12 minutes.
The first showed all their quality in turning defence into attack as Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies was sacked on the Crusaders 22, and Tamanivalu picked up the loose ball to race down the touchline and score.
That silenced the record home and the visitors added a second minutes later when they took the ball through the phases with the Lions scrambling in defence, and Goodhue dived over in the corner.
The game then swung heavily in the favour of the Crusaders with a red card for Smith a minute before halftime.
Smith pulled out of an attempt to challenge Crusaders fullback David Havili in the air from a Jantjies up-and-under, and succeeded only in upending the player in the air. Havili fell dangerously to the hard Highveld turf.
Referee Jaco Peyper had little option but to flash the red card and the Lions would play the remainder of the game with 14 men.
Read scored under the posts to extend the Crusaders' advantage, before Marx burrowed over to bring the home side to within 15 points.
And when prop Fourie burst over the tryline, there was life in the match with five minutes to play.
But the Crusaders managed to slow the game down and successfully see out the remaining minutes without alarm.
"It's been an incredible year, it's not the way we want to send our players going away (leaving the side), not the way to send off the coach," an emotional Lions captain Jaco Kriel said.
"Well done to the Crusaders, they are a championship side and they have proven that again."
Additional reporting by Reuters.