Mo'unga readies for Lions

Richie Mo'unga could have boasted his crucial tackle on James Lowe was a stroke of genius, and we would have been none the wiser.

The Crusaders first five-eighth embarrassed the Chiefs winger when he dislodged the ball from his grasp in the 49th minute of the Super Rugby semifinal at Christchurch's AMI Stadium, forcing it to ping into the hands of Israel Dagg and guaranteeing him one of the easiest tries of his career.

Some commentators suggested Mo'unga, having failed in his first attempt to tackle Lowe a split-second earlier, had timed his second lunge to perfection because he instinctively knew his opponent was going to shape to kick off his powerful left foot.

Not exactly, admits Mo'unga.

"I just went to tackle him - I just hit the ball," he said following the 27-13 victory. "Some of those moments went our way. Things could have been different if Tim (Chiefs wing Tim Nanai-Williams) had scored that try, it was a big momentum change."

Closely-fought matches are often decided by freak incidents.

A horrified Lowe immediately launched a protest to referee Glen Jackson following the gaffe near his own line, but his argument was full of holes. He had simply been surprised by Mo'unga's decision to attack his blind spot.

It was a crucial moment in the game. Dagg's five-pointer pushed the Crusaders out to a 15-6 lead, helping set-up the victory in front of a paltry crowd of around 13,000 fans.

Earlier Nanai-Williams thought he had scored, only for TMO Glenn Newman and Jackson to rule he had lost possession as he slid across the line.

Now Mo'unga is shaping for one of the biggest games of his career. Although he has won provincial titles with Canterbury, trying to stick it to the Lions at altitude in front of their own supporters at Ellis Park is in a different ball park altogether.

The Lions impressed with the way they reversed a lacklustre start to beat the Hurricanes 44-29 at Ellis Park in their semi; they tapped into their forward drives to swing the momentum and were cunning enough to go wide and exploit the depleted defence when Beauden Barrett was controversially yellow carded.

The Crusaders will have studied footage of the second semi while flying to Johannesburg, and the fact the Canes wilted so badly in the second 40 minutes emphasises how much the long flight from Down Under can affect players' energy levels in such high-intensity fixtures.

Mo'unga will again be loaded with the responsibility of kicking for field position, and varying the tactics will be vital if the Crusaders struggle as they did against the Chiefs; because too many kicks were simply gifts for fullback Damian McKenzie, whose running game was again a feature of the visitors' game plan.

"We sort of thought we could do what we did last week, and kick the ball and build pressure," Mo'unga said in reference to the 17-0 win over the Highlanders in terrible weather in the quarterfinal.

"What they (the Chiefs) did was hold on to the ball for long periods of time and we actually felt under pressure, defending for long periods. So, we changed that in the second half and held on to the ball a bit more."

Mo'unga wants to be a part of history. He could recall the evening when the Crusaders last won a title, beating the Waratahs 20-12 at Lancaster Park in 2008.

"I was working for Vbase and got a photo with Dan Carter as he was walking out of the stadium. That was pretty special. It is pretty surreal to be in a good position to be in … to be able to make the final and give something back to the city is pretty important for me."



Crusaders first five-eighth Richie Mo'unga (right) tries to prevent James Lowe offloading during the Super Rugby semifinal at AMI Stadium.