The Crusaders might as well be crowned champions now. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of need to ask them to play the final – as, barring some kind of impossible to foresee disaster, they are going to win it.
There is too much quality in their personnel and too much certainty and trust in how they are playing, that no other side in the competition gets remotely close.
They are just too good as the Hurricanes have now discovered. This wasn’t particularly close. Not really. The Hurricanes weren’t a serious chance of winning after half an hour.
They never really found much to throw at the Crusaders other than a well-worked and well-finished try by Julian Savea.
But other than that, they were blasted by a stunningly ruthless Crusaders team who showed again a phenomenal capacity to punish any mistakes.
That’s what sets them apart – they pounce as one mightily organised, cohesive unit when they sense there is a half chance.
And once again they made their killer plays in the five minutes before and after half-time.
The contest was alive through 35 minutes. The Hurricanes were hanging in quite well but it all changed so quickly, when one daft decision by Ngani Laumape backfired.
The Crusaders won the ball back, went 60 metres and won and then kicked a penalty. From the next kick-off, Richie Mo’unga made a telling break that led to another penalty and after half-time, Nehe Milner-Skudder’s wild clearance saw yet more brilliant movement and David Havili smash over for the try.
One minute it was close and the next, the Crusaders were 13 points further ahead and looking unbeatable.
Their scrum was dominant and their defence just kept building the pressure and forcing the Hurricanes into more mistakes.
It was classic finals football and so much of the control and dominance the Crusaders enjoyed was down to Mo’unga.
The forwards, of course, did their part and won all the physical stuff that matters in these big games, but the tactical wizardry came from their No 10.
He was outstanding in every facet. He ran well, he kicked well and took all the right options.
There’s been plenty of debate as to whether Mo’unga or Damien McKenzie is the right back-up to Beauden Barrett within the All Blacks.
But maybe that debate needs to change and the better question might be whether Mo’unga or Barrett should start for the All Blacks. It’s reached that point now that Mo’unga played so beautifully in the semi-final and was easily the more influential No 10.
It was a big occasion, plenty of pressure and expectation and no one would ever have known looking at Mo’unga.
If he felt any anxiety it could only have been in a positive way as he played with composure, certainty and no limited brilliance.
His control was total and his ability to dance and jog into space and make the right decisions was quite staggering. What’s also becoming apparent abut Mo’unga is that he has lightning acceleration and it was that speed across the ground that enabled him to trouble the Hurricanes.
That and the support he received from Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue who were so strong and accurate in the midfield.
They were always on hand to grind out a few more hard yards or get off the line and shut the Hurricanes down.
It wasn’t just Goodhue and Crotty who played such good support roles to Mo’unga. The whole Crusaders team did their bit and that’s why they are so good – they use every man they have and if Kieran Read wasn’t pumping hard into contact, George Bridge would be scampering somewhere or Joe Moody would be crushing somebody.
There’s no weakness, no soft spot to exploit and to leverage something and that’s why the final is almost certainly going to be one of the more one-sided in recent history.
Crusaders 30 (R. Mo’unga, G. Bridge, D. Havili, B. Ennor tries; R. Mo’unga 2 cons, 2 pens)
Hurricanes 12 (J. Savea, B. Lam tries; B. Barrett con)