The top two seeds meet in the 2017 final this Saturday, the first ever final hosted at Johannesburg’s famous Ellis Park stadium, the site of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.
Lions v Crusaders. Johannesburg Saturday 2pm
In their semi-final at home to the Hurricanes the Lions were 22-3 down and losing 10-22 at half time before a stunning second half comeback saw the win 44-29. The Crusaders meanwhile won at home against the Chiefs 29-13.
The odds suggest this will be a close match, the Crusaders are narrow 1 point handicap favourites (10/11)and 5/6 outright at Ladbrokes with the Lions even money home underdogs.
The Lions have lost one game all season, but have only played one New Zealand side, such were the inequities of the Super Rugby schedule, and that was in the semi-final where they noticeable struggled with the step up in intensity in the first half. They have developed an attractive style of play creating a lot of scoring opportunities and of tries, attacking from all areas more in the mould of a New Zealand franchise than the traditionally more conservative sides from South Africa.
Since round 10 of the group stages the Lions have won the second half in eight out of eight games by a total of 215 to 34 points.
With a week to go of the regular season the then unbeaten Crusaders were set for top seed in the knockout stages and home advantage throughout the post season. In the last week though they lost to the Hurricanes meaning the Lions overtook them and therefore the Crusaders now have to travel to South Africa for the final.
The Crusaders have the best forward pack and defence in the competition. When under pressure in the first half of their semi-final their defence was superb and the side gave a master-class in winning without the ball and eventually they out-scored the Chiefs four tries to one.
No team has won more Super Rugby titles than the Crusaders’ tally of seven. However, it has been nine years since the Crusaders last lifted the trophy,
The Lions have won four times in six games against New Zealand teams at home since 2016 and the tally against the Crusaders is a win and a loss with scores of 37-43 & then 42-25 in a quarter-final. They have beaten the Hurricanes, Blues and Highlanders in Johannesburg.
Which way will this one go? The Crusaders should win narrowly, at 5/6 with Ladbrokes. Their defence should help restrict the Lions in a way the Hurricanes couldn’t manage last weekend.