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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Rush salutes battling Blues
Auckland captain Xavier rush celebrates with lock Ali Williams
Rush (left) celebrates victory with lock Ali Williams
Auckland captain Xavier Rush praised his side's composure after they deprived Canterbury of a fifth Super 12 crown in six years.

The Blues rallied from a 10-6 half-time deficit to beat the defending champions 21-17 in front of an ecstatic Eden Park crowd.

It was deserved reward for their season-long dominance after finishing top of the Super 12 standings with 10 wins from 11 matches.

"This is a sweet victory," said Rush. "We have nothing but respect for this Canterbury side and they came at us early in the game.

They deserve it - they have set the pace all year
Crusaders captain Reuben Thorne

"But this is a young side and they showed composure beyond their years. In the second half we out-defended them.

"We said at half-time we were going to throw it around and play some good rugby, and that is what the guys did.

"We had to dig deep because we couldn't find any weaknesses to start with. But we got a couple of lucky breaks and I am absolutely rapt."

The Crusaders refused to surrender their title without a fight, a Caleb Ralph try with three minutes left ensuring a tense finish.

But despite enjoying periods of ascendancy in the first half, Canterbury captain Reuben Thorne admitted Auckland were deserved winners.

"It was always going to be tough," said Thorne. "They really played well in the second half and put us under a huge amount of pressure.

Crusaders captain Reuben Thorne (left), Justin Marshall and Richie McCaw
Thorne (left) and the Crusaders lost their first Super 12 final
"They have so much attacking power and they nailed their chances when they came. Unfortunately we didn't take ours in the second half.

"Well done to the Blues - they deserve it. They have set the pace all year.

"But I am really proud of my players. They fought their way to the final and put on a good show, but it wasn't our night."

After title triumphs in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002, a run only interrupted by ACT's triumph in 2001, defeat may signal the end of a triumphant era for the Crusaders.

Auckland, a young side bristling with talent and invention, may now go on to supplant them as New Zealand's dominant provincial power.

"They have set the benchmark over the past five years that we have aspired to," Rush said of Canterbury. "I congratulate them."

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