Super Rugby has reached its ultimate stage where two of the most ruthless and resilient performers of the biggest southern hemisphere tournament lock horns for bragging rights – who stands out in 2018 is yet to be known. Your guess is as good as good as mine.
The Lions lost at home to the Crusaders in April during the regular season and in last year’s final at Ellis Park. Their last visit to Christchurch was back in 2015 when they lost 34-6. Here is a look through both camps prior to Saturday’s clash.
The Lions’ path
The Lions have been the most consistent side in the last three years, being in two finals and heading to their third come Saturday. One might argue that they haven’t been as good as they were in the previous two Super Rugby campaigns but winning teams get the job done regardless of good or bad days.
They are still the best South African team by far – despite a couple of management changes, they seem to have shrugged off any lay backs and gone back to their normal operations. The boys from Johannesburg have found their perfect bearings in the last few games towards to the final, dispatching off the Australian conference leaders (Waratahs) in their path to a part 2 versus the Crusaders.
The Crusaders’ journey
The Crusaders have grown from strength to strength, just when one thought that they had peaked – the Christchurch based team went a notch up emphasizing their dominance even further. They have long looked like champions this season with the rise of stars such as Richie Mounga who has started putting pressure on Beauden Barrett for the All blacks number 10 shirt after last week’s performance where he outclassed Barrett. What happened in last weekend’s semi final was a spectacle of beauty and fright at the same time – putting the Hurricanes (one of the most ruthless sides in the tournament) to the sword with ease that left everyone in awe.
Battle of the flyhalves – Mounga vs Jantjies
Elton Jantjies is a different kind of beast when donning the Lions colours as compared to the Springboks. He seems to have more freedom to call the shots and express himself – probably because the management and players around trust him. In such surroundings, any half back can thrive; the South Africa international will be a huge threat to the Saders and Scott Robertson will be sure to instruct his flankers not to give him the space or the liberty to do as he pleases. This freedom will make or break the game for the Lions.
Richie Mounga has grown into the perfect All blacks player – ever since his return from injury, he has been top class for the red and black outfit; a far cry from his display against the British and Irish Lions last year. His performance last week against the Hurricanes has raised eyebrows and opinions over whether Beauden Barrett should be comfortable in the first five eighth slot for the All Blacks.
Credit – Super rugby
Battle of the back row – Matt Todd vs. Kwagga Smith
Matt Todd is the epitome of Crusaders rugby, voted the Crusaders’ best player this year speaks a lot about the contribution of the man this season. The Lions will have to be on their toes to prevent slowing down of play and turnovers by one of the best breakdown specialists in the world.
Kwagga Smith showed just why he is an asset to the Lions last weekend against the Waratahs, single handedly breaking their spirits to send the South Africans to the final yet again. The sevens star possesses immense strength and pace which makes him a very stressful customer to have against you.
The Lions landed in New Zealand on Tuesday in a bid to beat jet lag and give themselves the best chance on Saturday. The Lions have also used the delay strategy which they did in April when they went to Sydney, departing home just three days before the game and sticking to South African time to avoid changing sleeping patterns and eating arrangements.
The Crusaders are well aware of the Lions maul threat orchestrated from the back by hooker Malcolm Marx – The coaching team of the Crusaders will have to find a way to quell their impressive strategy.
Credit – Fox Sports
Crusaders vs Lions
Saturday, 4th April 2018
10.35 am EAT