And although the visitors monopolised possession, Whiteley conceded that the Crusaders’ ability to deal with “the kitchen sink” made them worthy winners.
“I’m immensely proud. It’s been unbelievable the last couple of years,” Whiteley said. “I’m obviously gutted, a bit emotional to be honest, but just immensely proud of each and every individual.
“We gave it everything out there. Credit must go to the Crusaders, to Sam [Whitelock, captain] and his team, they were unbelievable. Everything we threw at them, they stopped. We tried everything, threw the kitchen sink at them.
“They deserve this win, but I’m immensely proud of our boys.”
Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock: “It was an outstanding season for the Emirates Lions and they deserved to be in the final for a third year in a row. It’s pretty awesome to win the trophy back-to-back and the capacity crowd was absolutely superb tonight.”
For the Highvelders it was a case of third time unlucky in as many successive finals, but they gave a worthy effort against a classy Crusaders outfit.
The Emirates Lions had plenty of opportunities in the match and they dominated territory and possession. However, the Crusaders made much better use of their scoring opportunities and with their solid defence they nullified most of the visitors’ attacking threats.
The champions scored two first-half tries through Seta Tamanivalu and David Havili, while flyhalf Richie Mo’unga added the rest of the points with some accurate goal kicking. Elton Jantjies (No 10) slotted two penalties for the visiting team.
Hardworking flanker Cyle Brink scored the Highvelders’ first try in the second half with a powerful surge from a set piece to close the gap to 23-13 but the home side soon hit back with another converted try by Mitchell Drummond to stretch their lead to 30-13.
Warren Whiteley and his team refused to give up and piled on the pressure, and with Ryan Crotty in the bin for cynical play powerful hooker Malcolm Marx stormed over near the left corner to score his side’s second try and his twelfth of the season.