The time for a game report is well past, but not the chance for a few observations about the two teams...
Disappointment at the loss will be felt pretty strongly by the Capital City Dwellers, but there is plenty to be cheery about.
They made the semi finals and left sixth place to someone else for a change.
The foundation is there for a really good crack at the title in 2004. The problem area is the forward pack, and it isn't without a solution. More experience, better decision making and a hard-nosed attitude to playing the game will all come with time. The players they have are all good enough. Its just a matter of building on what they now know.
Tana Umaga has finally settled on a jersey number since being shuffled off the wing, and he has made it his for both the Hurricanes and the All Blacks. Along the way there has been an evolution into a very good captain. In fact, the "tiddlywinks" comment to Peter Marshall has very nearly catapulted him to "legendary captain" status.
Apart from the loss to Canterbury, the loose forward trio were one of the most effective in the competition. You could throw a blanket over them as they hunted the ball and on attack Collins and So-oialo can be devastating. However, they are injury prone.
Even the most staunch Crusaders supporters had their doubts this season. A stop-start, good-awful effort for the first 10 rounds left everyone thinking the Crusaders had finally gone off the boil.
The hammering by Auckland even sparked headlines like "Balance of Power shifts North"...
But not so. The Crusaders did eventually find form. Amidst criticisms of "boring" and "the All Blacks are doomed now" they are a hot prospect for taking out yet another title. The more pointed and more frequent the criticisms, the better you know you are.
Reuben Thorne and his forwards can take plenty of the blame for the resurgence. The go-forward ball they have served up has provided an inexperienced and mixed up back line with enough space to dot down a surprising number of tries. Their defensive effort has also stepped up significantly from the early rounds. The bashing they gave the Hurricanes in the semi-final was the key to that win.
The forward battle is where the game will be won and lost, and that is where I think Canterbury have the edge. More experience at this level combined with hard tackling inside backs like Mauger and Carter will make Spencer's job very difficult. If Auckland can't make the advantage line they will struggle as Wellington did.
The head to head battles are fascinating.
McCaw vs Braid. Both players have been outstanding this season, but most would rate McCaw in front at this stage.
Spencer vs Mauger. Aaron Mauger has had a pretty quiet and relatively unimpressive season and could well miss out on the All Blacks jersey unless he outshines Spencer. No easy task and the money is on Spencer to take this one out.
Williams vs Jack. The two skyscrapers meet again. It would be fair to say that Williams is king of the hill when it comes to burgling lineout ball. He is in absolutely outstanding form. Can Jack shut him out?
Carter vs Tuitupo. The Auckland man has been fairly widely mooted as a possibility for an All Black debut this year, but since Carter has settled into the Crusdares starting lineup he has made a huge impression! The tackle from nowhere that stopped what looked like an almost certain Cullen try in the semi-final typefies his season. This battle will be possibly the most exciting of them all.
On the wings the Aucks probably have the edge, but the key is getting the ball out there.
Crusaders by 7 or less.