After all the distractions, it’s a welcome 1 v 2 Super Rugby final

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    It honestly couldn’t have come at a better time. There’s been so much confusion, angst, dunderheadedness, indecision, procrastination, and annoying silence in rugby this season that the Super Rugby Final delivering the best two teams all season was a very welcome gift.

    And that’s not at all to say the Hurricanes wouldn’t have been deserved finalists, had they gone on from their 22-3 lead late in the first half. Their three tries inside half an hour silenced the Ellis Park crowd, and it was pretty quiet on my couch at the time, too, with some serious thinking under way about yet another tip going south.

    I still can’t quite pinpoint the exact turning point in the second semi-final, but I do recall thinking after a long Ruan Combrinck kick downfield early in the second half, followed a few minutes later by an equally long Andries Coetzee kick downfield, that the Lions were starting to pin the Hurricanes down in their own half – something I can’t really recall happening too much in 2017.

    That the Lions were able to storm home as they did says something for half time sprays. Johan Ackermann was measured when he spoke to local broadcasters Supersport after the halftime break, but I’m pretty sure there was a hint of neck vein still pulsing angrily.

    It also says something for coming home with a wet sail. For all the talk about the Hurricanes’ record season in attack, the Lions scored only six points fewer across the regular season. Noted second-half finishers, they were always going to come home strongly, and that, coupled with the Hurricanes playing at altitude meant that the threat of a second half run-down was always a threat.

    The ‘Canes needed a big lead early, and you sensed that was going to be the Chiefs best chance of toppling the Chiefs as well.

    And it’s not like they didn’t have plenty of ball; upwards of 70 per cent of possession in the first half, as the Crusaders from the opening minutes showed that they were more than happy to tackle their way into the Final.

    Would the result have been the same if Tim Nanai-Williams didn’t lose control of the ball while grounding it over the line? We’ll never know. But what we do know is that from that point it would be another 57 minutes before the Chiefs broke through the red-and-black wall in front of them.

    They had chances, for sure, and looked seemingly certain to score on a couple of occasions. But they couldn’t, and that kind of reflected their season in the New Zealand conference too; they threatened numerous times, but they were never able to stand out as the top team over the ditch.

    The Lions’ second halves this season have been something to behold. Even just since the June International break, their record after halftime is 127 points to just 21 points and three tries conceded; and average second forty of 31-5. And like they were against the Hurricanes in the Semi-Final, the Lions also trailed the Sharks in the Qualifying Final.

    They were always going to be a fast-finishing side. The ‘Canes even forced plenty of mistakes, but were let down by uncharacteristic execution errors, and their decision-making at times failing under pressure. The Lions missed every third tackle they attempted, yet through sheer weight of possession and territory, it didn’t matter.

    Crusaders Israel Dagg runs after the ball

    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    Traveling to South Africa was going to be a mere detail for the Hurricanes, some sections of the Kiwi media were insisting upon us last week. Those same sections were blowing up deluxe on Sunday, not because an on-field official got a decision right, but because an on-field official made an immediate and decisive – and correct – decision on his own. In a day and age where we deplore the game being unnecessarily held up by TMO referrals, the New Zealand Herald insisted “a more considered approach might have been appropriate”.

    That more considered approach would’ve come up with the same result, of course, but never mind. Also, you know, home town refs. That old chestnut. No-one bring up the inconvenient point of who blew the whistle in last year’s final in Wellington.

    The neutral refereeing argument comes up at this time of year every year, and even if you subscribe to the theory that professional referees’ livelihoods and future employment rests on their impartiality – and I do – it’s certainly true that SANZAAR brought this upon themselves the day they went away from appointing neutral referees. Regardless, it shouldn’t be an issue this weekend, with Australian ref Angus Gardner widely tipped to get what would be a well-deserved nod for the Final.

    But then again, we have rather astonishingly learned in the last week that ‘four weeks’ actually means something closer to seven weeks, despite numerous examples in recent years of a ‘week’ within a suspension including no games at all. And never mind that ‘matches’ was clarified to become ‘weeks’ a few years ago after the Wallabies somehow argued that Michael Hooper was always going to make a rare-as-hen’s-teeth appearance for his club side Manly during a Rugby Championship bye week.

    Nope, now ‘weeks’ means ‘matches’ again, and Sonny Bill Williams’ fourth ‘match’ of his suspension will come nearly two months after he was sent off against the British and Irish Lions.

    Honestly, if I wasn’t so used to rugby at the top level only refraining from shooting itself in the foot when forced to reload, it would all be quite laughable.

    And that’s why a first versus second final is one to be celebrated.

    After the season Super Rugby has had in 2017, it’s actually quite remarkable that like always seems to be the case, the best teams in the comp will again face off on the last weekend of the competition. And thank goodness for that.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.