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The side needed to win by 33 points or more to overtake the Highlanders on the ladder and ensure a spot in the Super Rugby transtasman final. They could only manage a 26-point win and were left hoping for a Blues loss to play again next week.
The Crusaders came out of the blocks looking like a team who needed to win by a big margin, applying the pressure on the Rebels defensive line almost immediately.
After charging down an attempted clearing kick and securing the ball, the Crusaders probed for a gap from deep inside the Rebels' 22 and, after several phases, halfback Mitchell Drummond snuck over beside the ruck in the third minute.
Just two minutes later, fullback Will Jordan strolled over and the Crusaders' led 14-0 after six minutes, getting their quest for the final off to a perfect start.
After the initial shock, the Rebels found their feet and began to have some success with the ball in their own hands. They hit back through lock Trevor Hosea, who ran a great line from close range and was too strong for the Crusaders defence.
They extended the lead once more through Leicester Fainga'anuku on the 20-minute mark, who capitalised off a speculative overhead pass from Manasa Mataele who was being driven into touch. Sevu Reece went across the line on the next passage of play, and again the Crusaders looked set to push on with the job.
But just as the Crusaders looked to pull away, the Rebels got across the line again, this time through halfback Joe Powell, whose try closed the gap to 14 at halftime.
For much of the second half, the Crusaders' hopes of making the final looked in real jeopardy. Needing to win by 33 points, they were unable to pull away from the Rebels. It seemed every time they looked to put the foot down and run away with it, they would open the door and let the Rebels back in.
The Crusaders continued to score tries, with two more for Reece and tries to Oli Jager and Braydon Ennor in the second half. Melbourne club didn't have a lot of opportunities in the second half, but made the most of those they did have. With Glen Vaihu and Frank Lomani scoring for the Rebels, they closed the gap with within the 33-point margin the Crusaders needed to overtake the Highlanders.
While both teams had chances late in the piece to get more point on the board, ultimately, the Crusaders came up short in their points chase.
Crusaders 52 (Sevu Reece 3, Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Oli Jager, Braydon Ennor tries; Richie Mo'unga 6 cons)
Rebels 26 (Trevor Hosea, Joe Powell, Glen Vaihu, Frank Lomani tries; Carter Gordon 3 cons)