Unforgettable Super Rugby Moments

Unforgettable Super Rugby Moments
By Quintin van Jaarsveld

15 January 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

Unforgettable Super Rugby Moments

With anticipation for Super Rugby’s 25th-anniversary celebrations kicking off on January 31 building by the day, Quintin van Jaarsveld adds more fuel to fans’ fire by highlighting some of the most unforgettable moments in the tournament’s history.

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Captained by legendary All Blacks No.8 Zinzan Brooke, the Blues became the inaugural Super Rugby champions with a commanding 45-21 win over the Sharks in the 1996 final at Eden Park. The star-studded Blues, boasting the likes of Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Jones, Carlos Spencer and Jonah Lomu to name a few, became the benchmark for future champions following their six-try-to-two mauling. In hindsight, the result also foreshadowed New Zealand’s dominance of the competition and South Africa’s struggles.

The inaugural season also produced arguably the greatest try in the tournament’s history courtesy of one of the finest fullbacks the game has ever known. A 20-year-old Christian Cullen showcased the fearless flair, speed and footwork that would make him an All Blacks legend with a superhuman 99m solo try for the Hurricanes against the Waratahs. The Paekakariki Express’ end-of-the-earth effort at the Sydney Football Stadium is one of the best individual tries of all-time.

Gavin Lawless provided a fond memory for Sharks supporters and set a record that’ll probably never be broken when he racked up an unbelievable 50 points against the Highlanders at Kings Park in 1997. Making his debut for the Durban side, the fullback scored a half-century – the most points ever by a player in a Super Rugby match – which included four tries, as the Sharks stormed to a 75-43 win.

After clinching back-to-back titles in the first two seasons, the Blues were dethroned by the Todd Blackadder-led Crusaders in a classic final in 1998. The reigning champions topped the log to earn a third consecutive home final, which proved to be a captivating and uncompromising war that went down to the last minute when James Kerr chased a Hail Mary kick by Andrew Mehrtens with all his might. Blues scrumhalf Junior Tonu’u cracked under pressure, fumbling the ball into his in-goal area and allowing Kerr to flop on it to score the match-winning try (20-13). With that, the Blues’ dominance made way for a new dynasty.

In 2000, the Stormers beat the Sharks 32-28 at Kings Park. No-one remembers the result. That’s because, in one of the most comical moments in Super Rugby history, poor Robbie Fleck went from hero to zero in humiliating fashion. After he’d made a beautiful break and with the tryline at his mercy, Fleck casually strolled in, unaware that a determined Deon Kayser was hunting him down. Kayser pounced on him like a lion on a gazelle, sending the ball spewing forward and Fleck into an embarrassing nosedive.

After a heart-breaking 20-19 loss to the Crusaders in the 2000 final in Canberra, which marked a hat-trick of title triumphs for the men from Christchurch, the Brumbies seized their second opportunity the following year as they smashed the Sharks 36-6 in front of their home fans to become the first Australian (and first non-New Zealand) team to win the tournament. Coached by Eddie Jones, the trail-blazing Brumbies included Wallaby stars such as George Smith, captain George Gregan, Stephen Larkham and Joe Roff, the latter scoring a brace of tries in the decider.

Carlos Spencer, like only he could, turned a moment of madness into one that’ll never be forgotten. Leading 31-29 with one minute remaining, the Blues simply had to run out the clock to clinch a famous win over the Crusaders in Christchurch in 2004. Instead, Spencer ran the ball out of his tryline, flung an audacious pass out wide and casually finished off a daring length-of-the-field try as if it were no big deal.

The Crusaders shook off the above-mentioned loss and went on to reach the final, where they faced off against the Brumbies in a repeat of the 2000 final in Canberra. The powerhouses produced a final for the ages, one that looked all but over after just 18 minutes with the rampant hosts having romped into a 33-0 lead with a fantastic five-try blitz. The Crusaders fought back gallantly, reducing the lead to 12 with 10 minutes remaining, before a try by the departing Roff ensured an eventual 47-38 victory.

Like a one-man army, Springbok great Bryan Habana stunned the Blues and sent the Loftus crowd into raptures when he scored a breath-taking individual try from a restart. The Bulls speedster fielded the kick-off, stepped the first defender, burned two more, chipped the last man, recollected the ball and dived over in the corner. The fantastic five-pointer earned him the 2005 SuperSport Try of the Year award to go along with his SARU Super Rugby Player of the Tournament gong.

Two years later, Habana dotted down his most important Super Rugby try. In a historic all-South African final in Durban, the Sharks looked set to finally get the monkey off their back, scoring a try to extend their lead to 19-13 with two minutes left. When they missed touch, the Bulls seized the day, with Habana slicing through seven jaded Sharks defenders to score an injury-time try next to the uprights. Derick Hougaard popped over the match-winning conversion and the Bulls became the first South African Super Rugby champions.

A complete contrast of the 2007 decider, a rampaging Bulls side stormed to their second Super Rugby title when they crushed the Chiefs 61-17 in 2009. On a glorious night for the men in blue at a sold-out Loftus, they ran in eight tries, including two each by Habana and Fourie du Preez, en route to the biggest final thrashing in the tournament’s history.

On to another record-setting showdown involving the Chiefs. When the Lions played host to the men from Hamilton in 2010, fans couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. The try-fest of all try-fests, both teams were out to thrill and what transpired was a breath-taking 80-minute sprint of free-flowing flair. The sides shared a whopping 18 tries as the visitors outgunned the Lions 72-65 in the highest-scoring game in Super Rugby history. Sure, the defence from both teams were dreadful, but as a spectacle, this was like something out of a video game.

The 2010 final, the second-ever all-South African shootout between North/South rivals the Bulls and the Stormers, was a quality contest. In the end, it was the fairy-tale ending to the Bulls’ “golden era” led by Springbok legends Victor Matfield and Du Preez as the Pretoria side prevailed 25-17. However, it’s the historical significance of the clash being contested in Soweto – due to Loftus being allocated as a FIFA World Cup venue – and the way fans of all cultures wholeheartedly embraced the move that elevated the occasion to legendary status. Shades of the Springboks’ national-building 1995 World Cup triumph, 90,000 spectators filled Orlando Stadium in a wonderful showcase of the power of sport.

How sweet it was for the Reds, captained by James Horwill and featuring Wallabies like Radike Samo, Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane when the stars aligned and they finally realised their dream of capturing the Super Rugby crown. In a barn-burning final against the Crusaders in Brisbane in 2011, the hosts played spectacular rugby, both on attack and defence, to earn a ground-breaking 18-13 win. For a team who hadn’t reached a final in a full decade heading into the decider, it was truly the stuff of legend. What’s more, Genia’s spectacular 75m match-winning score is one of the most iconic tries in Super Rugby history.

Third time was the charm for the Waratahs as they eked out a 33-32 win over the Crusaders in the 2014 final to clinch their maiden Super Rugby title. An exhilarating, instant classic went down to the wire, and just when it seemed as if the Tahs would come up agonisingly short yet again, All Blacks legend Richie McCaw was penalised at the breakdown. Bernard Foley stepped up and coolly slotted the ultimate pressure kick from 45m out to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Sydney side was spearheaded by Michael Hooper and included Wallabies like Foley, Wycliff Palu, Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper – who scored a brace in the final – and Israel Folau.

Sadly, the 2017 final will forever be remembered for Kwagga Smith’s red card. After succumbing to the Hurricanes in their first final appearance the previous year, the Lions set themselves up perfectly in their second shot at the silverware by topping the table and earning home ground advantage. But when a determined Smith was red-carded for taking Crusaders fullback David Havili out in the air in the 38th minute, the Lions’ fate was sealed. It was the cruellest of ways for the Lions to lose, with the Saders securing a 25-17 win, but as unintended as the collision was, referee Jaco Peyper had no other option but to give the distraught Smith his marching orders.

The 2019 final promised so much but turned out to be largely forgettable as far as a competitive clash is concerned. The Jaguares, who’d been outstanding en route to winning their first-ever South African Conference trophy and advancing to their maiden final, looked a legitimate threat to topple the Crusaders in Christchurch, but it proved to be a bridge too far for the Argentinians. The significance of the Saders’ 19-3 victory is what earns it a spot on this list as it secured the tournament’s unparalleled powerhouse their milestone 10th title.

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