The Crusaders remain the undisputed top dogs of Super Rugby. They toppled the Chiefs 24-13 in Christchurch.

The Crusaders remain the undisputed top dogs of Super Rugby.

They toppled the Chiefs 24-13 in Christchurch on Saturday night to defend their Super Rugby Aotearoa title, their fifth crown in as many years.

The two tries to one win sealed half a decade of dominance since Scott Robertson took over ahead of the 2017 campaign, increasing the Christchurch-based franchise’s tally to a record-extending 12 titles.

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And, boy, did they have to work for their latest.

After all, they had to overcome two yellow cards, a huge penalty count (14-9), and a Chiefs side which gave it a mighty shot and will without a doubt feel hard done by.

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It was pivot Richie Mo’unga who made a series of a crunch plays down the stretch to get the red and blacks home.

Clinging on to a 15-13 lead as the heavens opened, Mo’unga took a high ball, dashed down the side-line and sparked a huge momentum change.

A moment later, he pinged over a drop goal, before landing a 69th minute penalty to give his side an all-important eight-point buffer, one they didn’t relinquish.

Unbeaten in 24 previous home playoff matches, including six finals, the Crusaders went into the decider in front of a capacity 17,100 fans as firm favourites.

Yet the Chiefs, in the final on the back of a string of clutch Damian McKenzie plays, far from disgraced themselves.

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However, their inability to score tries, as has been the case all season, haunted them as McKenzie had an off-night with the boot, ending their fairy-tale season ended on a sour note.

The seventh final the Crusaders have hosted had everything a decider should.

Ferocious defence, a few cracking tries, a hair-raising atmosphere and, of course, controversy.

That includes the yellow card to Crusader Codie Taylor in the 54th minute, when he took out McKenzie in the air.

McKenzie, who lept to take a lineout throw, landed on his head and Chiefs fans had every right to suggest Ben O’Keeffe should have shown Taylor a red card.

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Crusaders wing Sevu Reece was perhaps also fortunate not to be red carded for his high shot on Anton Lienert-Brown.

His yellow card infringement cost the Crusaders three points, cutting their halftime lead to 15-13 with 20 minutes to play, and forced the hosts to play five minutes with 13 men.

As has been the case all season, the Crusaders’ high penalty count hindered them. They were just lucky McKenzie missed three penalty attempts either side of the half.

The Crusaders chalked up the metres through centre Leicester Fainga’anuku, who repeatedly clattered through Chiefs defenders with his powerhouse frame.

It meant plenty of front-foot pill for the hosts to operate with, which they utilised to run in first half tries through wing Sevu Reece and fullback Will Jordan.

Reece, who crashed over out wide with Damian McKenzie draped all over him, benefited from a peach of a Richie Mo’unga pass, who cut out a couple of defenders who appeared to have rocks in their boots.

Jordan’s 17th minute five-pointer was even better, as he got on the end of a David Havili grubber kick for the second consecutive match.

Sure, the ball took a pig of a bounce to evade McKenzie, but the try put the Crusaders 12-3 up to at least temporarily hush the rowdy contingent of visiting fans.

They soon had reason to get on their feet, and for the bloke below the coaching boxes in the south stand, to rattle his cow bell.

After all, having had their rolling maul shunted backwards, the Chiefs flung the ball wide and appeared to have nothing on, only for Christchurch product Alex Nankivell to toss a beaut of an offload to McKenzie to run in.

Both teams had chances to strike after McKenzie’s 20th minute try, and the Chiefs very nearly had their second try late in the piece, but wing Jonah Lowe grazed the chalk en route to the try-line.

However, Chiefs fans had reason to feel agrieved for not being awarded a penalty try, given Jordan was penalised for a high shot while tackling Lowe.

Some big Crusaders defence on their own line denied the Chiefs again a moment later, as Mo’unga’s penalty goal a few minutes from the break was the only addition to the score.

Crusaders 24 (Sevu Reece, Will Jordan tries; Richie Mo’unga con, 3 pen, drop goal) Chiefs 13 (Damian McKenzie try; 2 pen, con). HT: 15-10

– This article originally appeared on stuff.co.nz and is reproduced with permission

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