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The merits of Lions coach Johan Ackermann’s decision to rest his top players for the crucial Super Rugby match against the Jaguares fluctuates according to varying circumstances. When the team failed to get the single point required to ensure the Lions finished top of the log and guarantee all their playoff matches at home, it was a bad idea. When most of the team came back ill, it was a good idea. When the well-rested and injury-free Lions thumped the Crusaders in the quarterfinal, it was an even better idea. When the Hurricanes beat the Chiefs to secure the home final in Wellington, it was a bad idea. He can’t win. If the Lions lose on Saturday, the critics will say he should have sent his best team to Argentina. If they win, who cares? They won. – David O’Sullivan
JOHANNESBURG, July 30 (Reuters) – A decision to send a second string team to a routine assignment in Argentina at the end of Super Rugby’s regular season could come back to haunt Lions coach Johan Ackermann in next week’s final.
Ackermann has taken the unfashionable franchise to a first final, but took a gamble in the last match of the regular season against Jaguares in Buenos Aires that has now cost them home advantage in the showpiece decider against New Zealand’s Hurricanes.
With the Lions having already clinched a playoff berth, Ackermann decided to rest his regulars ahead of the quarter-finals, but they were beaten 34-22 by the Argentines and ceded top spot in the standings to the Hurricanes.
Super Rugby rules give home advantage in all playoff games to the highest placed team in the regular season table.
A fortnight on from the match in Argentina, the Lions and Hurricanes both won their respective home semi-finals and will now meet at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington next Saturday (0735 GMT kickoff).
“I’ll probably have to live with the team selection for Buenos Aires. Either way this team backs me,” Ackermann told reporters after a decisive 42-30 victory to end the reign of New Zealand’s Highlanders in their semi-final at Ellis Park.
“Will we make the wrong decision sometimes? Yes. But we’ll always go down trying.”
#LIOvHIG Johan Ackermann: Will we make the wrong decision sometimes? Yes. But we will always go down trying.
— EWN Sport (@EWNsport) July 30, 2016
Had Ackermann taken his regular side to play Jaguares, who won only four of their 15 outings, few doubt the Lions would have won the match and finished top.
Home advantage is often critical in the competition.
This was shown in Saturday’s semi as the Highlanders battled with tiredness after a lengthy trip from New Zealand.
The Lions suffered one home defeat this season when the Hurricanes handed them a 50-17 thumping at the end of April, romping home with seven tries.
“They beat us here with 50 points so we know they’re a quality side. But the final will be just another game,” Ackermann said.
“The guys are familiar with the flight (to New Zealand). Hopefully they’ll settle in quickly and find their feet.”
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