At midnight (AEST) the Super Rugby season 2017 hits its pinnacle with the top two teams playing off to be this year’s champion team. With much talk about the unbalanced nature of the format, it’s hard to argue that these team are not deserved finalists based on their performances this year. With a combination of good weather, the Kiwi team not being the clear favourite and with two teams that play the full 80 minutes it has all the hallmarks of a game that should be entertaining and could have us on the edge of our seats until the very last minute.
The Lions entered the finals series top of the table two points clear of the Crusaders courtesy of more bonus points (for scoring 3 or more tries than their opposition). Their only loss for the year came against the Jaguares in round 3, when the Lions sent a very under strength team to Argentina, resting most of their starting players. The Lions topped the season stats scoring more and conceding less than any other team in the competition.
The Lions are on a bit of a hot streak, coming off an impressive 44-29 win over the Hurricanes last weekend. They completely outplayed their rivals in the second half, looking dangerous every time they had ball in hand, which was a bit of a contrast to the first half when they didn’t have any answer to the power of the Canes. They also struggled against the Sharks, only getting through thanks to a long-range penalty in the dying minutes. The Lions are definitely not unbeatable, but when they get it right they look very good.
The Crusaders finished with the same number of wins as the Lions, just 2 points behind them on the ladder. Their only loss for the year came in the final round of the year, losing to the Hurricanes. They were very convincing in both of their finals wins, over the highlanders, who they held scoreless, and the Chiefs. But both of those matches were played on a wet, heavy pitch. The forecast for tomorrow is warm, dry conditions with a hard, fast ground. Will that have an impact on the Crusaders? They have won seven out of their last 9 matches in South Africa and they definitely have more finals experience than the Lions, but will it count for anything in front of a packed Ellis park? Embed from Getty Images
Both teams have named unchanged line-ups from the semi finals. In fact both teams have listed un changed line-ups for all three of their finals appearances. A great example of don’t change something that’s working!
Players to Watch
Elton Jantjies – Jantjies can be brilliant and terrible, all in the one match. His kicking put the Lions under extraordinary pressure during the final against the Sharks, but was on song last week. He is dangerous and can be unpredictable with ball in hand.
Richie Mo’unga – He is a less flashy ten, but runs the Crusaders backline very effectively. His defence is a strong point, last week he made some very big hits, one to save a try and one to give Dagg a try. Embed from Getty Images
Ruan Combrinck – Apart from being dangerous in open play, Combrinck’s boot can be deadly. His long-range penalty saved the day against the Sharks, and he is a potential field goal waiting to happen. The Crusaders will have to be on their toes around him.
Keiran Reid – His work at the breakdown, combined with his experience in big matches could prove priceless. He won’t make it easy for the Lions in attack and he plays a big part in the Crusaders set piece, which has proved to be so effective in recent weeks.
Key Match Up
Mostert v Whitelock Franco Mostert has been a standout for the Lions this year. He is a strong carrier of the ball who provides go forward for the Lions. He could have a big impact with ball in hand against a tough Crusaders defence. Whitelock, too, is a strong ball carrier, with the added benefit of a number of other All Blacks he is part of a formidable forwards pack. He is responsible for running the Crusaders set plays, which he does with precision. His leadership will play a vital role in this match. Embed from Getty Images
Recent Head to Head
2016 Johannesburg Lions 42-25 Crusaders (Tries 5-3) (play off)
2016 Johannesburg Lions 37-43 Crusaders (Tries 4-6)
2015 Christchurch Crusaders 34-6 Lions (Tries 4-0 )
2014 Johannesburg Lions 7-28 Crusaders (Tries 1-3)
2012 Johannesburg Lions 13-23 Crusaders (Tries 1-2)
2010 Christchurch Crusaders 46-19 Lions (Tries 5-1 )
2009 Johannesburg Lions 20-32 Crusaders (Tries 3-4)
- The Lions ran out to a 42-25 win when they last met the Crusaders
- The last time a team won a Super Rugby Final played outside their own home country was the Crusaders in 2000
- Eight of the last 11 Super Rugby Finals have been decided by margins of eight points or fewer, however the three exceptions in that run were all games between a South African side and a team from New Zealand
- Only once in Super Rugby history has a team contested consecutive finals without winning at least one of them (Crusaders in 2003 & 2004)
- In the past 2 seasons, the Lions have faced each team from New Zealand, and have defeated all 5. Last year they defeated the Chiefs and Blues during the regular season, and the Highlanders and Crusaders in the finals before losing to the Hurricanes.
* Stats courtesy of OPTA stats Embed from Getty Images
We turned to Brent Craig for his prediction on this one, his verdict? Unless The Crusaders are up by 15+ with 20 to go, Lions by 6.
Lions : 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen. Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge
Date: Saturday, August 5
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 12:00 am (AEST)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
A last word
I’d just like to take this chance to thank Brent Craig and all the other writers who contributed to the Un-Australian Activities writing this year. you guys have all done an awesome job!