The Super Rugby Grand Final this weekend sees the Crusaders and Lions face each other, one last time in the season. Both teams featured in last year’s Final, with only the hosting duties exchanging hands this time around.
The sides earned their places: the Crusaders by virtue of nearly a 20 point advantage over most, and the Emirates Lions through consistency and playing an exciting brand of footy – and the highlights from both teams are worth enjoying, prior to this Saturday’s contest.
Betting on a Miracle [again]
No South African team has ever beaten the Crusaders in a playoff match. A statistic which the all powerful Hurricanes could not reverse either. But, as Lions coach, Swys de Bruin says “Miracles can happen“.
The Crusaders are the complete package. They have the forwards that can dominate any pack in the competition. They will certainly be able to deal with the Lions’ maul.
Any highlights package must display key features of their game; including strength and well planned set piece.
(Video credit: SuperSport)
While they also have enough speedsters and match awareness, to exploit any hesitant defense.
If the Lions outside backs can’t apply a decent cover defense, it will be a long night for the team from Johannesburg.
Crusaders and Lions – Two best attacking Teams
There are some interesting stats to consider as well.
- the Crusaders and Lions are the top try scoring teams in this year’s competition
- the Lions have 87 currently, while the Crusaders are one behind them with 86.
The Lions luckily have their debutante speedster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, back in the squad. This gives them striking power from (literally) anywhere on the field.
The Lions can also catch opposition teams napping with quick-thinking plays.
Then they have the strength of Kwagga Smith or the venerable Malcolm Marx to finish off the opposition. Two men who will be keen to display their skillset this Saturday night.
The Crusaders found some new ‘Super Stars’ over the last two seasons. Finisher George Bridge continues to impress from last season, and is quickly becoming a fan favorite.
One player who likes to score in pairs, the Lions will need to watch for multiple-strikes from Bridge, as well as great try assist value from Bryn Hall and Jack Goodhue.
As far as defense goes, the Lions have conceded 484 points, whilst the Crusaders have only allowed in 317 points all the season. That means breaking the line is tough – South African fans will be cheering wildly, if the Lions can score tries from set piece.
The Crusaders can also turn defense into attack quicker than anyone in Super Rugby.
They sometimes run their luck, and have had some calls go their way. That is where patience and preparedness is a tool the Lions must use.
Take another look at the final pass from Goodhue…
Getting away with things like the beneficial forward pass above wouldn’t mean much during the regular season. Sometimes, the attacking team have built such good advantage, the officials ‘run with the play’. However, in a final, it may cost a certain kind of fan a new television.
But South African fans can be assured, that with neutral referees involved, that Angus Gardner will look at the game fair and square.
The ‘Red Bogeymen’ from Canterbury
A bedtime story regularly told in South African rugby households warns of a giant, red machine steamrolling you.
Introducing exhibit C…….see below.
The men from Canterbury are patient and look to wear down any defense. Local derby competition has readied them to absorb, absorb, absorb and then – hit it with 100%.
The Lions have their work cut out for them, needing a better start than they’ve had in some of their local derby games this season.
There is also ‘the curious case of Elton Jantjes’.
In some games, he looks like he means business. Playing with a deft touch, that is often surprising to his opponents, whom respect him more after several years of top-level Super Rugby form.
Above, he saw the space, used pinpoint execution and a weapon that he can direct both left and right.
While at other times….. he will make even the most ardent Lions supporter want to ‘tear out their hair’.
The first-five battle with Richie Mo’unga will be riveting. If anything can be taken from the 2016 Super Rugby Grand Final – Jantjies has to think about his game alone. He is not competing with one player, he is wanting to be the director of his own team’s destiny in 2018.
Flashback; Crusaders and Lions – Week 7
This is not the first time the two teams have met this season. The Lions hosted the Crusaders in Super Rugby week 7 of the competition. The Crusaders came away with the victory, in what was a strangely low-scoring game.
The Lions only managed to cross the line once, using Dyantyi’s speed down the touchline.
The Crusaders, playing in white jerseys that week, hit back with two tries of their own, to retake the advantage.
It might have been an even higher score, after a try was disallowed by the TMO for a forward pass to Bridge in the first half. Although, that proved how a rush defence can be countered – so the long passing of Richie Mo’unga and even Matt Todd, need to be watched closely.
Crusaders have plenty of weapons to choose from
In the second half, the pick and drive worked, getting captain Sam Whitelock over in the corner after thirteen phases of play.
Later, to win the game they used their impact winger, Manasa Mataele. He broke through the tired midfield and delivered an offload for center, Jack Goodhue to score. An example of how the Crusaders substitutes much be controlled.
Running close at Emirate Airlines Park, with 27 minutes left in the game, the Lions couldn’t respond. A hard fought win, it was an improvement for the hosts – and some lessons can be drawn from that encounter.
The visiting finalist will be hoping that this time around, they keep the scoreboard ticking over deep into the second half.
Kick-off is Saturday, August 4 at 19:35 (NZT) in AMI Stadium, Christchurch.
(All video images credited to SuperSport)
“Main Photo Credit”
Embed from Getty Images