Super Rugby comes to a close, as we eagerly await the start of the Rugby Championship in just over two weeks. New Zealand teams, and the Crusaders in particular, have once again dominated the competition, but its latter stages also showed that this year’s Rugby Championship should be a much more open contest than in previous years. There have been some very strong showings from South African teams, and with the Springbok renaissance that took place recently against England, we’re hoping for a competitive Championship this year. This year’s Super Rugby final should give us a tantalizing look at what we might expect to see when the Springboks and All Blacks clash heads next month.
This year’s final is a repeat of last year’s with the only difference being that the Lions are racking up the air miles en route to New Zealand, whereas last year it was the Crusaders making the long trek to Johannesburg. Given the travel factor and the small matter of the Crusaders essentially being an All Black undercover squad, it is hard to imagine the Lions upsetting the odds tomorrow in Christchurch. We are hoping for plenty of thrills and the South Africans have some real game breakers amongst their ranks. Malcolm Marx, Kwagga Smith, Marnus Schoeman and Aphiwe Dyantyi are all players who can in a heartbeat turn a match on its head. However, as we saw last weekend in the Crusaders semi-final clash with the Hurricanes, the Christchurch outfit can create opportunities and capitalise on them from anywhere on the park, and their counterattacking ability from deep is rather alarming to say the least.
Despite this match perhaps ending up as a bit of an anticlimax after two thrilling semi-finals last weekend, we are still looking forward to it. As mentioned above, we’re more than just a little curious if for no other reason than it being an exciting teaser for the Southern Hemisphere heavyweight showdown starting in a fortnight’s time.
Crusaders vs Lions
Saturday, August 4th
We haven’t had much time to chat about this one so, as a slight departure from our usual form, here’s a brief summary of our talking points leading up to the match.
The Lions rolling maul. Once it picks up speed it seems to have a life of its own that other teams struggle to contain. The Crusaders have a formidable forward pack, but provided the Lions are match fit and not overly jet lagged, the New Zealanders will find managing this weapon in the Lions arsenal exhausting.
Defensive liabilities of the Lions especially in the backs. The Lions have too many missed tackles going against their names in this competition for our liking. When you consider the quality of the Crusaders backs, especially what we saw from them last weekend, brilliantly orchestrated by fly half Richie Mo’unga then this could in the first quarter be the death of the Lions tomorrow. Given that the Lions seem to put themselves in a position of having to play catch up rugby, this could well be their undoing.
Elton Jantjies. Fly half Jantjies has failed dismally in this role at Test level, and let’s face it for all intents and purposes tomorrow is a dress rehearsal for the Springboks upcoming Tests in the Rugby Championship. While he performed well at home last weekend, we fear that his tendency to kick perfectly good ball away under pressure will be the Achilles Heel for the Lions as it is so often for the Springboks when Jantjies is wearing the number 10 jersey. He is a class player at Super Rugby level, and we hate to appear negative, but like many have serious concerns about his ability in matches like these especially a long way from home. He simply is no match for the Crusaders Richie Mo’unga, and we fear that the Lions could really lose the plot here tomorrow and struggle to exert any kind of control over the match.
Is he fit enough to do this again?
There is no question that winger Aphiwe Dyantyi scored the try of the weekend in Johannesburg last Saturday, and possibly of the tournament. However, the cost was a hamstring tweak that may still be giving him grief. Nevertheless, if he can bring this kind of impact off the bench in the final quarter, and the Lions are in it with less than a score separating the two sides, then bring on the fireworks!
Richie Mo’unga and the All Blacks. We feel that this match will be Mo’unga’s calling card to wrestle a starting slot at number ten for the All Blacks away from incumbent Beauden Barrett in the coming weeks in one or two of New Zealand’s Rugby Championship encounters. No pressure Richie and we’re sure your primary focus will be on the job at hand.
Our prediction. We’re really hoping that this ends up being one of those finals for the ages. However, looking at the up and down form of the Lions this season and the clinical efficiency of the Crusaders barring one or two blips, it’s fairly clear that the South African squad have more on their plate to deal with than the home side. Is an upset in the making? We’d love to see it for the history books, but reality sets in and leaves us with the conviction that the Lions will bring plenty of heart and spirit, but the home town heroes are going to wrap this up comfortably and thus the Crusaders to bring the trophy home by 12 points!
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