In the third season of Super 12, the Canterbury Crusaders became the second New Zealand franchise to win the title. This time ending the reign of the Auckland Blues, who had obtained the 1996 and 1997 crowns.
Crusaders won the decisive match at the mythical Eden Park, by 20 to 13, after a first stage in which they were imposed by only 3 to 0. In the complement, after being equal in 13 points, came the key try supported by James Kerry who was converted by Andrew Merthens to give the Christchurch team the title for the first time in its history.
With 69 games played in the season, the regular stage ended with the Auckland Blues on top (nine wins and two losses), followed by the Canterbury Crusaders (8/3), Sharks (7/4) and Otago Highlanders (7/4) .
The semifinals had two spectacular clashes: Blues who beat the Highlanders by 37 to 31 and Crusaders who did the same against the Sharks by 36 to 32.
The decisive match was played for the third consecutive year at Eden Park, between the two New Zealand franchises. It was the first final played by two teams from the same country, since Blues had met in 1996 against the South Africans of Natal Sharks and in 1997 against the Australians of Brumbies. The two-time defending champions had never lost to Kiwi squads as they reached their third straight finish with thirteen wins in a row.
The Crusaders record against the Blues was not very favorable either. They suffered defeats all three times they had met: in Christchurch, by a hefty 49 to 18 in 1996 and 31 to 24 in 1998, and in Pukekohe, by the slightest difference (29 to 28) in 1997.
Crusaders’ goals in the finish were scored as follows: tries were supported by Maxwell and Kerry, and there were also two penalties and two conversions by Andrew Mehrtens. In addition, it had among the starters Scott Robertson, current head coach of the team.
The Christchurch franchise was not a favorite in Auckland, considering the negative start with three losses in the first four dates. However, after the sixth day they chained nine consecutive victories that empowered them to take away the throne of two-time champion from Blues.
Merthens was the scorer of the new champion and, in addition, of the tournament (206 goals); mark that represented a record of points for the Super 12. Adrian Cashmore of Blues with 180 points and Jon Preston of Hurricanes (112) so many were located behind the “10 and scorer”, who was also featured with the All Blacks jersey ( 70 caps and 962 points).
With 10 tries, Jeff Wilson from Highlanders, Joeli Vidiri from Blues and Stefan Terblanche from Sharks were the trymans of that contest.
Crusaders won ten games and lost three to get to their first celebration. He scored 396 goals and received 305 (+ 91), with 43 tries in favor and 37 against (+6). In Christchurch they lost only once, precisely to Blues, on the fifth date by 31-24. The rest of the games on their court were victories, against Waratahs, Bulls, Brumbies, Stormers, Highlanders and Sharks. As a visitor, they fell in the first two matches (Chiefs and Reds), to then chain a series of four consecutive successes (Hurricanes, Lions, Sharks and Blues).
Auckland Blues (13): Adrian Cashmore, Joeli Vidiri, Eroni Clarke, Lee Stensness, Caleb Ralph, Carlos Spencer, Ofisa Tonu’u, Xavier Rush, Mark Carter, Michael Jones (cap), Robin Brooke, Royce Willis, Olo Brown James Christian, Craig Dowd.
Try: James christian
Conversion: Adrian cashmore
Penal: Adrian cashmore
Drop: Adrian cashmore
Canterbury Crusaders (20): Daryl Gibson, James Kerr, Tabai Matson, Mark Mayerhofler, Norm Barryman, Andrew Mehrtens, Aaron Flynn, Steve Surridge, Scott Robertson, Todd Blackadder (cap), Reuben Thorne, Norm Maxwell, Stu Loe, Mark Hammett, Kevin Nepia.
They entered: Tony Marsh, Blair Feeney, Daryl Lilley, Angus Gardiner, and Greg Feek.
Coach: Wayne Smith
Tries: Norm Maxwell and James Kerr
Conversions: Andrew Mehrtens (2)
Penalties: Andrew Mehrtens (2)
Referee: Paddy O’Brien (New Zealand)
Stadium: Eden Park.