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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Crusaders reclaim Super 12 crown
Canterbury Crusaders fly-half Andrew Mehrtens takes on the Brumbies defence
Mehrtens was pivotal to the Crusaders victory
Canterbury Crusaders 31-13 ACT Brumbies

Two tries in the closing four minutes saw the Canterbury Crusaders secure their fourth Super 12 title after a fiercely-contested final in Christchurch.

A brace from wing Caleb Ralph finally ended the resistance of defending champions the ACT Brumbies, who had reduced the deficit to a point with Andrew Walker's try.

But the New Zealand province, champions from 1998 to 2000, immediately regained the initiative with an Andrew Mehrtens drop goal.

The All Blacks fly-half had kept the Brumbies pegged back for long periods with his controlled kicking game, and Ralph's late double put the seal on a deserved triumph.

  Scoreboard:
Crusaders:
Tries: Vunibaka, Ralph 2
Cons: Mehrtens 2
Pens: Mehrtens 3
Drop goal: Mehrtens
Brumbies:
Tries: Walker
Con: Walker
Pens: Walker 2

Victory ensured the Crusaders became the first side to win every game in a Super 12 season, and Mehrtens' last-minute conversion brought up 30 points or more for the 13th consecutive match.

The win featured a superb display from burgeoning All Blacks lock Chris Jack.

For the Brumbies, it was a third final loss in the seven years of Super 12, and a repeat of their 2000 defeat by the same opponents.

The Crusaders launched into their Australian rivals from the off, Mehrtens' early break a sign of his rediscovered confidence.

But centre Aaron Mauger and No 8 Scott Robertson both spurned opportunities close to the Brumbies line, while Mehrtens missed a penalty chance after 15 minutes.

Instead it was the Brumbies, via a Walker penalty, who took the lead after 18 minutes, only for Mehrtens to level seven minutes later after superb driving play from the home side.

ACT fly-half Stephen Larkham watches from the sidelines after injuring his arm
Larkham watches from the sidelines after injuring his arm
ACT suffered a grievous blow just before the half-hour when key playmaker Stephen Larkham was forced off with elbow damage.

While the fly-half was still receiving treatment on the pitch, the Crusaders went in front with a superb try from Marika Vunibaka.

The impressive Mauger was twice involved in the move, captain Reuben Thorne giving the scoring pass for the Fijian wing to sprint away to the right corner.

Mehrtens was unable to convert in the windy conditions, and the Brumbies were grateful for George Gregan's cover tackle to prevent Vunibaka scoring his second try.

But the All Blacks record points-scorer extended the lead to 11-3 with the last kick of the first half, and edged the Crusaders nearer victory with his third penalty 14 minutes into the second period.

The Brumbies came out firing on the resumption but were unable to find a way through an inspired Crusaders defence.

Chris Jack wins a Brumbies line-out against the throw
Jack was outstanding in the line-out
Twice, after 46 minutes and just before the hour, they launched sustained attacks on the Canterbury line, but failed to break through.

Walker did reduce the deficit with a penalty 15 minutes from time, but Jack's line-out steal on a Brumbies throw eased the pressure.

Eight minutes from time Justin Marshall's pass to Vunibaka was intercepted by Walker for a try that he converted himself to set the stage for a nerve-wracking finale.

But Canterbury quickly dispelled any throughts of a late ACT comeback as Mehrtens drilled home a 74th-minute drop goal.

Moments later, the Crusaders swept the ball along their backline and Mauger's cut-out pass released Ralph to score in the left corner.

With the crowd at the Jade Stadium already celebrating, Ralph intercepted a pass from Larkham's replacement Julian Huxley and sprinted 80 metres to crown victory.


Teams:

Canterbury Crusaders: MacDonald; Vunibaka, Robinson, Mauger, Ralph; Mehrtens, Marshall; Robertson, McCaw, Reuben Thorne (capt), Jack, Maxwell; Somerville, Hammett, Feek.

ACT Brumbies: Bartholomeusz; Bond, Mortlock, Howard, Walker; Larkham, Gregan (capt); Fava, Smith, Finegan, Vickerman, Harrison; Darwin, Paul, Young.

Referee: A Watson (South Africa)

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Graham Moody reports for BBC Sport
"This was a major morale boost for New Zealand rugby"
Canterbury Crusaders captain Reuben Thorne
"This is a fantastic result"

The Final

Justin Marshall

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