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JOHANNESBURG — The odds are certainly stacked against the Lions winning their first Super Rugby title on their third attempt. No one flies across 8 time zones to New Zealand, to the fortress that is AMI Stadium in Christchurch, and beats the Crusaders. Why should it be any different for the Lions? Interestingly, while the Crusaders are the overwhelming favourites to retain their title, the Lions aren’t being completely written off. A man as knowledgeable as All Black coach Steve Hansen has already gone on record as saying the Lions are capable of upsetting the odds, but only if their pack is solid and they prevent the Crusaders getting space in which to run the ball. Which is another way of saying that the Lions should play a brand of koppestamp rugby and grind their opponents into the mud. Lions coach Swys de Bruin is a wily campaigner and will have a plan worked out. Unlike the 2017 final when the Lions lost to the Crusaders at Ellis Park (thereby becoming the first team to fly over 8 time zones and win a final), the South Africans will need all 15 men on the field at the same time. Last year, Kwagga Smith’s red card late in the first half doomed the Lions to an inevitable defeat. The fact that they pushed the Crusaders close will give them some hope. Can they survive the jet lag, the cold and wet weather and a team that has played a vastly superior brand of rugby to all other Super Rugby teams? Don’t bet your house on it. – David O’Sullivan
From SA Rugby
The Emirates Lions can prepare themselves for a very daunting challenge when they take on the Crusaders – considered firm favourites by most pundits – at 09h35 on Saturday morning in Christchurch to determine who will be crowned the 2018 Vodacom Super Rugby champion.
It will be the first time that the same teams are playing against each other in successive finals. Last year, the Crusaders defeated the Johannesburg franchise 25-17 at Emirates Airline Park to win the big southern hemisphere prize for the eight time.
The Kiwis are in tremendous form at the moment and have won 14 games in a row, while they have a great record when it comes to knockout rugby. However, they will face a determined Emirates Lions team who will be quietly confident of pulling off a shock on the South Island of New Zealand.
The Emirates Lions have a huge fighting spirit, as shown once more this year when they had to overcome several obstacles to clinch the South African Conference title for a third straight year.
They shrugged off a loss of form at the right time to defeat Gauteng neighbours, the Vodacom Bulls, in their last regular-season match and then proceeded to eliminate the powerful Jaguares and resurgent Waratahs with impressive displays in Johannesburg.
Coach Swys de Bruin has applied some interesting techniques in a bid to combat the travel fatigue that comes with the long haul to Christchurch, so it will be interesting to see how his team perform against the competition’s most successful side.
De Bruin has made two changes to his Emirates Lions starting line-up for the final. Cyle Brink, who missed last week’s semi-final triumph over the Waratahs due to an arm injury, returns at flank while Lourens Erasmus moves to the bench.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson made just one injury-enforced change to his starting team for the big occasion. Heiden Bedwell-Curtis was handed the No 6 jersey in place of Jordan Taufua, who broke his arm last weekend’s home semi-final victory over the Hurricanes. Reserve hooker, Seb Siataga, who also fractured his arm in the previous match, has been replaced by Sam Anderson-Heather.
Interestingly, 19 players of their match-23 for Saturday’s game were also involved in the Crusaders’ 2017 final win over the Highvelders.
What they said:
Emirates Lions head coach Swys de Bruin: “It is a huge honour for us to be involved in another final. We know it’s going to be a tough challenge because New Zealand rugby is in a very healthy state at the moment. However, anything can happen in a final because it’s a once-off game.”
Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar: “The Emirates Lions have earned their place in the final. They have been successful and consistent the past few years and will be playing in their third final in a row, their second in New Zealand. They have a really good set piece and fast outside backs, so it’s going to be a good battle.”
- This game will mark the first time in Vodacom Super Rugby history that consecutive finals have been contested by the same teams, with the Crusaders pulling off a 25-17 win over the Emirates Lions in the 2017 edition.
- The Crusaders have won their last 14 games in a row, the last time they won more was a 16-game streak from April 2005 to April 2006.
- The Emirates Lions have scored 87 tries this season, more than any other team in the competition but just one more than the Crusaders (86).
Key team stats:
Top points’ scorers:
Crusaders: Richie Mo’unga 133 points in 11 games
Emirates Lions: Elton Jantjies 165 in 18 games
Top try scorers:
Crusaders: George Bridge 15 in 17 games
Emirates Lions: Malcolm Marx 11 in 15 games
Crusaders: Matt Todd 179 in 16 games, with 18 missed tackles
Emirates Lions: Franco Mostert 214 in 18 matches, with 36 missed tackles
Records in previous finals:
Crusaders: P12, W8, L4, Win rate: 67%
Emirates Lions: P2, L2, Win rate: 0%
Head to head:
Crusaders won: 10
Emirates Lions won: 3
Crusaders points: 350
Emirates Lions: 239
Average score: 27-18
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody. Replacements: 16 Sam Anderson-Heather, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: 16 Corné Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Date: Saturday, 4 August
SA time: 09h35
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Angus Gardner (Aus)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (NZ) and Nic Berry (Aus)
Television match official: Shane McDermott (NZ)