Crusaders coach Scott Robertson praised the record-breaking defensive effort of his side in denying the Chiefs a Super Rugby Pacific finals berth when winning their semifinal 20-7 in Christchurch on Friday.
The Crusaders put in 246 tackles to 106 as the Chiefs threw everything at the Crusaders' line in the second half.
Robertson said statistics usually reflected why their tackle count was trending one way or another in a game. But on Friday night, all the other statistics had been down.
"They weren't telling us anything, we were just tackling to stay in the moment," he said.
"Defence wins championships as they say, and that's given us a chance for next week," he said.
Robertson was almost lost for words to describe the value of the Crusaders' effort.
"The care, and how deep we went, Scott Barrett made 28 or more tackles – I think everyone's effort in winning moments…They had scored two or three tries for certain. Then, all of a sudden, there was this massive tackle, someone was on the ball, and they just kept getting up for each other.
"It was a game built on effort and care, I'm extremely proud," he said.
First five-eighths Richie Mo'unga had found ways to get the side through. He had been brave, and used his feet, and while everyone stood up, he had been special.
No8 Cullen Grace also had an impact, and Robertson said he was playing like an All Black. His try off the back of a five-metre scrum was a 'throwback', and he was brave to reach out and score with a telescopic arm, especially in the wet conditions.
"He's the best lineout loose forward in the competition, so there's a lot to like about him. I'm glad that his body's right and he's consistent.
Robertson said the game represented a payoff for the effort they put into developing mental strength and understanding every game was different, and if they had to go deep, they would do it.
And they did that on Friday night.
He admitted their discipline could have been better, but they had found a way to get the win.
He also said it had been an emotional week for his 100th game as coach, especially as he took pride in coaching a team he had played for.
Lock Sam Whitelock had not been ruled out of playing next week's final after a thumb injury suffered during the week while hooker Codie Taylor left the field at halftime with a calf injury.
The coaches made a decision not to have him continue playing. Brodie McAlister had performed well in his absence while also suffering a pectoral injury.
Robertson was hopeful flanker Pablo Matera would not be sanctioned for his red card, coming from two yellow cards.
The big dance#SRPFINALS pic.twitter.com/v0nnwtPwY3— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) June 12, 2022