Todd Blackadder’s reign as Crusaders coach has ended in familiar fashion, with a 42-25 loss to the rampant Lions in their Super Rugby quarter-final in Johannesburg.
The home side were always in control after racing 15-0 up inside 15 minutes.
They finished strongly to ensure there won’t be four New Zealand teams in the semi-finals, with the Hurricanes and Highlanders having already qualified.
The Lions, the leading team in the African group, will host either the Stormers or the Highlanders next week.
Playing a compelling brand of counter-attack rugby, they scored five tries to three to end a seven-game losing streak against the Crusaders.
It capped a muted finish to the season for the visitors, who lost three of their last four games.
It also marks the end of eight seasons in charge for coach Todd Blackadder. The former All Blacks captain guided them to the play-offs seven times but they never pushed on to add to the seven titles won prior to 2009.
Captain Kieran Read refused to use travel or altitude as an excuse.
“We just let them get off to a flyer and this team (Lions) have played well all year,” he said.
“You can’t fault their game plan against us. We’re gutted we couldn’t send the (departing) players and Toddy off but that’s footy.”
The Crusaders lacked the speed and energy of a ell-rested Lions side, having fielded a virtual B-side in their final round-robin game against the Jaguares last week.
The hosts opened with a brilliant 50m solo try to wing Courtnal Skosan in the second minute and were 12 points clear when centre Rohan Janse Van Ransburg crossed.
The Crusaders were back in the contest through a Ryan Crotty try but Lions hooker Malcolm Marx put his team 22-10 clear with a try on the stroke of halftime which Read admitted was deflating.
Five-eighth Elton Jantjes, who finished with 13 points, landed a dropped goal and a penalty before the Crusaders pulled within eight points through a slightly fortuitous try to reserve halfback Mitchell Drummond.
However the Lions made the game safe through tries to wing Ruan Combrinck and reserve Ross Cronje before the Crusaders snared a late consolation through Ben Volavola.
Lions captain Warren Whitely, back from an injury spell, said they targeted a fast start.
“That was crucial. When we played them last time, they got off to a flyer.”
“Tonight we really capitalised and they were chasing the game. How we finished the game was amazing.”