The Canterbury Crusaders soaked up the pressure from an enterprising Jaguares side to clinch their 10th Super Rugby title with a tight 19-3 victory in chilly conditions in Christchurch New Zealand on Saturday.
It was also their third successive title under Scott Robertson, who became the first coach to guide a Super Rugby team to three consecutive championships.
Hooker Codie Taylor scored the only try for the home side, while flyhalf Richie Mo’unga added 14 points with the boot.
Joaquin Diaz Bonilla slotted a penalty for the Jaguares, who were playing their first Super Rugby final following a remarkable rise after only joining the southern hemisphere competition in 2016.
“It was a really tough final,” Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said in an on-field interview. “It has been an emotional year, with a lot of ups and downs.
“It has been a massive year. We have used a massive amount of guys and everyone stepped up when they needed to and got us here.”
The Jaguares entered the final having won 11 of their last 12 games and held no fears of facing the Crusaders at their home venue, where the New Zealand side was on an unbeaten 30-match streak over the last three years.
After defending for much of the initial period, flyhalf Diaz Bonilla opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a 35-meter penalty when Crusader's scrumhalf Bryn Hall was caught offside at a defensive scrum.
Diaz Bonilla, however, gifted the Crusaders their only try to Taylor in the 25th minute when he had the ball stripped by flanker Matt Todd inside his own half.
The tactical battle continued in the middle of the field and only a superb try-line tackle by fullback David Havili on winger Matias Moroni prevented the visitors from taking the lead into halftime.
Mo’unga instead slotted a 45-meter penalty after the hooter had sounded when hooker Agustin Creevy was penalized at the breakdown to give the home side a 10-3 lead at the break.
The Jaguares threw everything at the Crusaders in the opening minutes of the second half, but the home side withstood the onslaught and then began to mount pressure on the visitors.
Referee Jaco Peyper awarded them a succession of penalties for their dominance with Mo’unga slotting two by the 60th-minute mark to give the home side a 16-3 advantage entering the final quarter.
The experienced All Blacks in the Crusaders pack in captain Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read then took control of the match and Mo’unga’s fourth penalty in the 75th minute from long range was enough to keep the title in Christchurch.
“We worked hard to play the final and we are proud to do that but we came here to win the competition so we are sad we did not get it,” said Jaguares flanker Pablo Matera, who was man-of-the-match after a superb game on defense and attack.
“We have to be a bit more disciplined and patient to avoid penalties. If we had done that it might have been different in the end.”