Thrilling deciders, break dancing foes, set stage for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman

Richie Mo'unga. James O'Connor. Brad Thorn. Scott Robertson ... and Taniela Tupou.

Wizardy. Leadership. Relief. Belief ... and break dancing.

Those were the protagonists and their respective contributions and emotions from an extraordinary few hours of Super Rugby on Saturday night, while the likes of Damian McKenzie, Fraser McReight, Alex Nankivell, Rob Valetini and Codie Taylor either played the wayward villain or a supreme supporting act as the Crusaders and Reds were crowned champions of Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU respectively.

And, with that, the stage was officially set for a mouth-watering Super Rugby Trans-Tasman series.

After a fifth title in five years - three in a row in Super Rugby and now back-to-back Aotearoa crowns - Robertson's breakdancing was indeed obligatory. It wouldn't have been a Crusaders title without it.

But the windmill or head spin - or at least the attempt to do so - haven't been moves to associate with Queensland rugby, and by extension Australian rugby, as there has simply been little to break dance about.

Take nothing away from the Brumbies, they were worthy winners of Super Rugby AU last season. But there was little fanfare nor atmosphere to greet their victory last September; part of that was due to COVID restrictions but also because the Raiders appear to be more of the flavour of the month in Canberra.

So there was something special in seeing Tupou rolling around amid a haze of red tickertape, busting out his own version of Robertson's trademark celebration having largely destroyed the Brumbies scrum for 80 minutes, and then having backed himself for a quick tap that would absorb six further defenders from the 13-man Brumbies, creating even more space for O'Connor to slide over and start the pandemonium at Suncorp Stadium.

"They did their job," Reds coach Brad Thorn said.

"We came in the start of the year wanting to just get the job done...how good for rugby. In front of 42,000 people to see that sort of epic game that went right down to the wire.

"To me that's Queensland, you've got 40,000 behind you."

Seeing Suncorp only 8000 or so punters short of capacity is a testament to Thorn's Reds rebuild.

The story of his squad overhaul is well known but it is worth repeating given the nature of some of those decisions and the ongoing criticism that came his way.

Thorn refused to pick Quade Cooper despite the former Wallabies No. 10 still being under contract. He showed James Slipper and Karmichael Hunt the door for off-field misadventures. And all the while he backed a talented but untried bunch of youngsters, and more importantly stood by them, to eventually earn a deserved reward.

But there are still more riches to be had. It's only that it gets far more challenging from here.

Just how Thorn is able to bring his side back down to earth and set them for a difficult opening Trans-Tasman Super Rugby task, away to the Highlanders on Friday, will be among the greatest tests of his coaching acumen to date.

The task is probably even greater for the Brumbies who head to Christchurch, although Dan McKellar's side have an extra day up their sleeve, for a date with the Crusaders, who weren't at their best in the Aotearoa final but were still able to see off the Chiefs and continue their extraordinary run of dominance.

The debate around the All Blacks No. 10 jersey and its coach will continue despite the result, though both Mo'unga and Robertson can do little more to prove they are the right men for the job.

This triumph should sit alongside Robertson's first title, secured in Johannesburg in 2017, given the adversity the Crusaders have overcome this year, namely the loss of All Blacks Joe Moody and Jack Goodhue, and the mid-year wobble when both the Highlanders and Chiefs were able to rattle the fleet-footed magician in the No.10 shirt.

But there was no rattling Mo'unga on Saturday night.

In a sequence that might have been lost amid Nankivell's extraordinary flick pass for McKenzie's try, Codie Taylor's dangerous mid-air challenge on McKenzie, or any of the Chiefs' fullback's missed three penalties, the series of skills that Mo'unga showed both in the lead-up to - and after -- his drop goal were extraordinary.

Tracking back to field a towering Chiefs kick, it was as if Mo'unga was drawing the ball towards him with some sort of intrinsic magnetron such was his turn, break downfield and pass to Bryn Hall. Six rucks later, he split the posts with his first ever drop goal in Super Rugby.

It was a sublime bit of play.

That sequence was then backed up with a raking clearing kick from the restart before, with minutes to play, Mo'unga tore down field in a desperate chase and tackle, from his own missed touch mistake, to earn a penalty that would ice the contest.

They were clutch plays that showcased the All Blacks playmaker's unique talents, and why the Crusaders remain the team to beat over the coming six weeks of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

With five Super Rugby titles to his name, and a sixth in the offing in the coming weeks, comparisons could be made with NFL great Tom Brady. Robertson didn't mention the Patriot-turned-Buccaneer by name, but you imagine that's whom he was thinking of when reflecting on another Mo'unga Christchurch masterclass.

"Yeah, what a play, what a player. That's freakish," Robertson said.

"Then he backed it up later when he kicked long, made that tackle, and we turned it over. They are some quarterback plays. He's special."

After an absorbing five hours of rugby, it's right to question whether the planned reunification of Super Rugby, at least between New Zealand and Australia, should proceed next year. The 12-team competition, which is being driven by New Zealand Rugby and has plans to include Fiji Drua and Moana Pasifika, has a number of positives, not least of which is the fact that it should assist the development of Pacific Island rugby.

But, from a purely Australian perspective at least, the benefits of Super Rugby AU are hard to ignore. And the outstanding audience figures across Nine and Stan Sport only further support the case.

The on-field conversation, specifically where the Reds and Brumbies, and then the Force, Rebels and Waratahs match-up, will be unavoidable over the next six weeks. Just how the teams settle back into inter-country travel - NSW thankfully appears to have avoided further COVID spread - is an interesting sidebar, so too how the six teams not involved in the finals come out refreshed in Round 1.

But everyone is back to zero. And that is enough to give all 10 sides - even the winless Waratahs - at least some semblance of hope.

The expectation is that more Mo'unga magic will have Robertson again making Orangetheory Stadium his own personal dance floor come June 19.

But there are at least 41,000, and change, Queenslanders who would beg to differ. And the Tongan Thor might like a word, too.