Early dominance will be key to Lions Super Rugby Final quest.
The Lions’ metamorphosis process has the potential to come full circle when they battle the Crusaders in front of a record 61,500 crowd at Emirates Airline Park in the Super Rugby final on Saturday.
The Lions’ resurgence from perennial wiping boys, and Super Rugby exclusion in the 2013 season, to being the bride’s maids to 2016 champions the Hurricanes, has been nothing short of spectacular. The Lions will however have the opportunity to redeem that 20-3 loss to the Hurricanes in treacherous conditions in Wellington in 2016, when they host an All Black-laden, 7 times champions, Crusaders in a match that promises to enthral the 61,500 faithful that will be in attendance and a further 50 million South Africans that will be on the edge of their living room seats during the 80 minutes.
Though both teams have dominated the league phase of the competition, and only suffering one loss each so far (Lions lost to the Jaguares in round 3 and the Crusaders lost to the Hurricanes in the final round) it is the Lions that have struggled for consistent momentum during the two play-off games they have been involved in thus far. They had to battle past a Sharks side that was full of determination in the Quarter-final, while they had to rally back from a 19-point deficit to the Hurricanes in the Semi-final last weekend.
The Lions have not started the two play-off games in their usual assertive selves, and have relied heavily on their determination, self-belief and team spirit to lift themselves to victories. The seven-time champions, though, will be a different kettle of fish, and Johann Ackermann’s side can’t afford to get out of the blocks slowly.
The Lions will have to nullify a Crusaders pack that has bossed all that has stood in their way this season, and hope that the high-altitude conditions slow their opposition’s momentum down. Key to the early dominance that the Lions will have to achieve in the final will be at the set-pieces.
Springbok lock, Franco Mostert will be instrumental in the line-outs when he comes up against Sam Whitelock in an epic aerial battle. The numbers favour the lanky Lions lock this season so far, as he has recorded more than 15 steals of opposition balls in the line-outs.
The Lions can give out-going coach Johann Ackermann the perfect send-off by winning a Super Rugby title but they will have to avoid a slow start against very dangerous opposition.
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Written for The Pundits by @psixaba