Super Rugby Final: Lions vs Crusaders preview and prediction

Simon Douch Roar Guru

By Simon Douch, Simon Douch is a Roar Guru

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    The finale of the Super Rugby season is upon us. Four conferences have battled it out in a flurry of intercontinental travel and match-ups and now, there are just two teams remaining.

    The Crusaders have travelled to Johannesburg to play the Lions in one of the most intriguing finals to date. But who’s going to win?

    The Lions staged a remarkable comeback after being down 22-3 against the Hurricanes. Jacques van Rooyen crossed for the home side just before half time to keep his team within reach after enduring an early onslaught from the dangerous New Zealand side.

    They returned to the field after the break to eclipse their opposition in a dominant second half. Five second-half tries scored by the South African side blew the final score out to 44-29.

    The Crusaders kept their strong season running with a clinical performance against a valiant Chiefs team. The men from Canterbury scored four tries while keeping their opposition from crossing the line until the 77th minute, but by that stage, the result had already been confirmed.

    With the quality of defence the key point of difference between the two teams, the Crusaders battled to a 27-13 final score. They will play in their 12th final and hope to become champions for the first time since 2008.

    The Teams

    It seems fitting that the two sides with the best records now face each other in the final. The Super Rugby format, despite its shortcomings, has been very entertaining, even from an Australian rugby fan’s perspective.

    The Lions have dominated the attack statistics going into the final fixture of the year. They have posted the most metres gained, 9718, most defenders beaten, 446, most carries, 2095 and most passes made, 2708, by any team in the competition. They are an attacking team, and an extremely successful one at that, scoring 90 tries so far this season.

    They are also hoping to wipe any lingering memories from their defeat in the final last year, and after toppling the Hurricanes last weekend, the first step in that process is complete.

    (Photo by Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    The Crusaders, despite being the most successful Super Rugby team in history, have not won a grand final since 2008. In 2014, they fell agonisingly short, beaten by the Waratahs 33-32.

    Since their last title, the Crusaders have made it to the finals seven times without success while enduring three of their fellow New Zealand clubs winning the Super Rugby championship.

    Defence has played a large part of their near-unbeaten Super Rugby season. Tith an 85 per cent tackle success rate, plus a 96 per cent ruck success rate, the Crusaders are clinical, experienced and very good at what they do. Not to be outdone with the ball though, they have scored 83 tries this season along with 210 clean line breaks.

    Interestingly, the last time these two teams met was in last year’s quarter-final, where the Lions continued their strong run to the decider, easily taking care of the Crusaders 42-25.

    Key Players

    Elton Jantjies (Lions)
    It’s hard to look past Jantjies for a player who can have such a large effect on the game. The Springboks fly-half was near perfect with the boot against the Hurricanes, hitting four conversions and two penalties.

    The ability to steer his side to victory after his form dwindled late in the season was impressive, even more so with the absence of Lions captain Warren Whitely.

    While Jantjies’ defence is questionable (he’s missed 32 tackles this season), his attacking and kicking prowess unlocks the Lions’ dangerous attacking backline. Look for a spark from him late in the game.

    Elton Jantjies Lions Super Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Kieran Read (Crusaders)
    The All Black captain has overcome injury concerns earlier this year to anchor the strong Crusader forward pack through the last weeks of the competition. After leaving the field with a knee injury in the final minutes of the game against the Chiefs, Read has been confirmed to play in the final.

    The number eight continues to prove that he is the complete package by providing reliable defence and strong attack. Read has made 35 tackles while missing just five, and he has also run in for three tries from 47 carries.

    Experience is the key area of benefit in Read’s case. Having captained the All Blacks through a momentous British and Irish Lions tour, Read is all too familiar with the pressures of performing when it matters most.

    Andries Coetzee (Lions)
    The Lions fullback will continue his attacking play in familiar home-ground conditions. The utility back has made 1323 metres with the ball this season, the third most for the competition behind Damien Mckenzie and James Lowe for the Chiefs.

    Coetzee’s clearance kicks will be a key attribute to his game in the grand final. He has made 66 kicks in play this season and will likely keep the Crusaders’ from settling with good attacking territory.

    David Havili (Crusaders)
    Havili makes up one-third of a very dangerous back three for the Crusaders. The entertaining fullback will link up with Israel Dagg and Seta Tamanivalu on the wings and be hoping to continue their incredible attacking form.

    While the Crusaders’ true strength lies within the forward pack, Havili has had a standout season playing for the Crusaders. He has beaten 59 defenders off 168 carries in 2017. He has also made 1150 metres with the ball and scored eight tries.

    While Dagg and Tamanivalu showed their try scoring capabilities against the Chiefs last weekend, look for Havili in support, or making metres in broken play.


    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)


    Lions Crusaders
    Jacques Van Rooyen 1 Joe Moody
    Malcolm Marx 2 Codie Taylor
    Ruan Dreyer 3 Owen Franks
    Andries Ferreira 4 Scott Barrett
    Franco Mostert 5 Sam Whitelock
    Jaco Kriel 6 Jordan Taufua
    Kwagga Smith 7 Matt Todd
    Ruan Ackermann 8 Kieran Read
    Ross Cronje 9 Bryn Hall
    Elton Jantjies 10 Richie Mo’unga
    Courtnall Skosan 11 Seta Tamanivalu
    Harold Vorster 12 Ryan Crotty
    Lionel Mapoe 13 Jack Goodhue
    Ruan Combrinck 14 Israel Dagg
    Andries Coetzee 15 David Kaetau Havili
    Substitutes Substitutes
    Armand van der Merwe 16 Ben Funnell
    Corne Fourie 17 Wyatt Crockett
    Johannes Jonker 18 Michael Alaalatoa
    Lourens Erasmus 19 Luke Romano
    Cyle Brink 20 Peter Samu
    Francois de Klerk 21 Mitchell Drummond
    Rohan Janse van Rensburg 22 Mitch Hunt
    Sylvian Mahuza 23 George Bridge
    Coach: Johann Ackermann Coach: Scott Robertson


    This season I have been guilty of underestimating the Lions, who have undoubtedly proven themselves as serious contenders once again this year.

    Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg has become a true fortress. Since the Springbok World Cup victory there in 1995, the stadium has been a true rugby icon, and presumably an extremely daunting venue for visiting teams.

    Fortunately for the Lions, this stadium is their home ground.

    No doubt the raucous, 60,000-strong crowd will play a large role in the outcome of this game, and may ultimately prove the difference between two sides.

    The Lions will be out for retribution and revenge after last year’s results, and while the victory against the Hurricanes has helped, there is still one more team in the way of their ultimate goal.

    Lions coach Johan Ackermann

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    For the Crusaders, it has been far too long since the most successful team in Super Rugby has actually been successful. After all, success is measured in final victories, not appearances.

    They are a team that once had rugby royalty among their ranks in Richie Mccaw and Dan Carter, but those glory days are over, and the Crusaders will be keen to prove that they are still the benchmark in professional rugby.

    They have proved themselves in an extremely tough New Zealand conference, playing each fixture with professionalism and skills that should be admired.

    Ultimately, this game is going to be very enjoyable to watch. They are two high-quality teams who will play hard until the very final whistle and that makes it very difficult to pick a winner.

    While you can’t underestimate the Lions (like I have before), the Crusaders are a team of exceptional skill but also, more importantly on this occasion, mental strength. Under the leadership of the senior figures within the side, plus a spark from the backline, the Crusaders should not wilt in the South African heat.

    Crusaders to win 33-29

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    The Crowd Says (88)

    • August 5th 2017 @ 5:31am
      Galatzo said | August 5th 2017 @ 5:31am | ! Report

      Way too difficult for a team to travel all the way to SA for a one off and win. Lions by 12 with Jantjies’ boot a real plus for the Ls. Looking forward to the clash between Marx/Taylor, Smith/Todd, Ackermann/Read, Vorster/Crotty.

    • August 5th 2017 @ 6:13am
      englishbob said | August 5th 2017 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      lions by 5-7, crusaders cant hope to tackle their way out of this one like the previous two. Not that the saders aren’t a great team but the conditions will do for them.

    • August 5th 2017 @ 6:26am
      Fionn said | August 5th 2017 @ 6:26am | ! Report

      I reckon you’re right, mate, Crusaders to smother the Lions. Crusaders to win a right one by 7 points.

      • August 5th 2017 @ 11:12am
        Jibba Jabba said | August 5th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

        Normally in equal conditions it would be a men against boys scenario, but sanzaar have equalised all that plus some. The inequality pf the contest for the myriad or reasons has killed this as a spectacle, all that is on trial here is the depth of character and mental strength to get over those imposed conditions.

        • Roar Guru

          August 5th 2017 @ 1:07pm
          Machooka said | August 5th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

          Jibba… your consistency of negativity will NOT detract from da fact that this game is gonna be a cracker! 🙂

          • August 5th 2017 @ 1:24pm
            Jibba Jabba said | August 5th 2017 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

            Yeah i know Chook, sorry about that – I love a contest but this manipulation by sanzaar has killed it for me. Its a shame cos the Lions are a very good team and dont really need their help and it is no reflection on them.

            However it is not an equal contest by any stretch of the imagination and as i said it will come down to the character and mental strength of the Crusaders.
            The game will be a cracker for 60 minutes then the Crusaders will be holding on….. hopefully they can get 20 plus ahead and target the jantjies bloke; i noticed a few weeks ago he is useless when pressured.. great when not..(bit like QC – 🙂 ) go Toddy, Read, Muafua and a rampaging Whitelock – to charge down his channel all day and scare the bejesus out of him… .. 🙂

            • Roar Guru

              August 5th 2017 @ 6:39pm
              biltongbek said | August 5th 2017 @ 6:39pm | ! Report

              SANZAAR must have killed it for you last year as well then?

              • August 6th 2017 @ 10:28am
                Jibba Jabba said | August 6th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

                Was there manipulation last year ?

          • August 5th 2017 @ 6:21pm
            Akari said | August 5th 2017 @ 6:21pm | ! Report

            Rubbish, Chooks.

            Super rugby is a joke and is broken. This final is rigged by SANZAAR so as to bring the Kiwis back to the standard of the chasing pack. It’s sad really and I won’t be wasting my time to watch it. and by the way, I don’t like the Saders but do enjoy a good and fairly officiated game.

            • August 5th 2017 @ 6:28pm
              Fionn said | August 5th 2017 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

              I think at the end of the day the two best teams are playing in the final. We can argue about who deserves the home game, but I for one think that it is a surprisingly good ending for such a horrific format of competition.

              Good luck to both teams.

              Btw, Akari, it has taken 15 years since the 2000 season for me to get over it, but I now think I love the Crusaders. I miss the days when the Brumbies were good and they were our main rivals.

            • Roar Guru

              August 5th 2017 @ 7:56pm
              Machooka said | August 5th 2017 @ 7:56pm | ! Report

              Horse shyte Akari… except the bit about not liking the Saders.

              No-one likes the Saders… oh except those that do.

              And Fionn 😉

    • August 5th 2017 @ 7:10am
      Baylion said | August 5th 2017 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      Much is said about the Canes defence. Fact is though, they conceded 10 more tries than the Lions during the regular season.

      I suspect the Lions will go back to what worked for them during the regular season and tighten their game during the first 40-60 minutes and look to really attack in the last 20.

      • August 5th 2017 @ 9:33am
        Jacko said | August 5th 2017 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        The Saders conceded those 10 extra trys against NZ sides

        • Roar Guru

          August 5th 2017 @ 9:39am
          Fionn said | August 5th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

          The Saders are going to be playing with less oxygen though. That could be a key factor.

          • August 5th 2017 @ 11:35am
            Bakkies said | August 5th 2017 @ 11:35am | ! Report

            That’s what killed them last year in the finals when they played at Ellis Park.

        • August 5th 2017 @ 2:16pm
          Baylion said | August 5th 2017 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

          vs Same Opposition
          Lions Tries: 54:13
          Crusaders Tries: 58:20

          • August 5th 2017 @ 3:05pm
            taylorman said | August 5th 2017 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

            Pretty close really, that’s a good picture for the final.

      • August 5th 2017 @ 10:17am
        taylorman said | August 5th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        Yes that’s one thing you can’t favourably compare, tries across the two sides. Replace five of the Lions matches with NZ ones and that 10 will be considerably different.

        • Roar Guru

          August 5th 2017 @ 10:39am
          eagleJack said | August 5th 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

          It’s a fair point. And it’s why this one is so hard to predict. There’s not a whole lot of comparable data given the vagaries of the Super draw.

          The Lions have plenty of points in them. But we saw the Crusaders defend like men possessed last week. So that evens everything out. However I question whether the Chiefs really threw too much at them. Crucial mistakes at crucial times cost them.

          That’s why I think the Lions might take this one. Parochial crowd, zero travel, and the hurt from last year to get them home. But I’m not at all confident.

          • August 5th 2017 @ 10:57am
            taylorman said | August 5th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

            So do I, yet a Saders win will really set them apart from the rest of the field, 8th title, plus the only team to win finals away in two countries, huge. Just seems too big an ask on that basis alone…but if anyone can I suppose…

            The only real advantage I see is the number of players used to winning at both a Super and tests, and Razor is a very astute coach, not yet in Ackermans league but could pull something out of the bag for this.

          • August 5th 2017 @ 5:31pm
            Glen the red said | August 5th 2017 @ 5:31pm | ! Report

            It’s more than that mate, the guvs leaving present, the coach who became a father to unwanted rugby players. Through relegation, and quotas he stood firm by his word.

    • Roar Guru

      August 5th 2017 @ 7:32am
      Charging Rhino said | August 5th 2017 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      Simon just a correction, there is no heat. 4pm in winter in Joburg is not hot. The weather report on my phone says it will be about 18/19 degrees when they kick off with almost clear skies/partly cloudy conditions.
      Perfect for playing rugby!
      I didn’t check last Saturday’s temperature but I’m confident it wouldn’t have been hot either.

      Lions to win 🙂

      • August 5th 2017 @ 8:20am
        ToBeRugby said | August 5th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

        Compared to Christchurch in winter that is hot. Lions to take it by 7.

      • Roar Guru

        August 5th 2017 @ 10:00am
        Atawhai Drive said | August 5th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

        A 4pm kickoff in Johannesburg means midnight in eastern Australia and 2am in New Zealand.

        The challenge will be to avoid hearing the score before I settle down to watch the replay tomorrow morning.

        • August 5th 2017 @ 12:38pm
          woodart said | August 5th 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

          + 1

        • Roar Guru

          August 5th 2017 @ 1:20pm
          Machooka said | August 5th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

          C’mon Atawhai… be here for our champion ‘live blogger’ Diggercane and those unwashed who are there in support.

          Ffs… this is that Final buddy.

          Sleep is for the weak… and I also have to work tomorrow. 🙂

    • August 5th 2017 @ 9:33am
      Stu B said | August 5th 2017 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      Baylion,conceded 10 more tries but against who??

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