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And then there were two. Although you’d be excused for thinking there was only one.
Without doubt, this season’s Super Rugby Final looms as the most presumptive in memory. Right at this point in time, friends and family are battling to give the Lions any chance of knocking off the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Through a mix of the Crusaders’ relentlessness, their supreme 2018 form, and a line of commentary – which yes, I’ve contributed to this week myself – that just cannot find a weakness in the competition leaders, the Lions face the biggest uphill task since young David entered the battlefield to face that reasonably well-known nine-foot soldier from Gath back in the day.
The question, then, is simple: who is bold enough to tip them?
SEMI FINALS: Nobes, Geoff, and The Crowd 2; Digger, Harry, and Brett 1.
OVERALL: Geoff and Nobes 87; The Crowd 81; Digger 80; Brett 79; Harry 72.
TIP: LIONS by 8
First try: Malcolm Marx
Player of the Final: Elton Jantjies
And then there were ‘two’. I know what you are thinking, but I am referring to the Crusaders and Lions, two teams with very different approaches to the game but have managed to end up in three consecutive finals.
The Crusaders have the best defence in Super Rugby, and when someone asks me about who usually wins, my response has been always the same: the one with the best defence. Now they have also added a very good set of half and centres to make them virtually invincible. They will also have the plus of playing at home against a team that flew from the other side of the globe, is a ‘no-brainer’ which team to tip.
On the other hand, you have the Lions, a team that is finding itself again in the deciding game against the same team they lost to last year. The Lions arrive with one of the best offences and a set of very powerful front men that take no prisoners. A team that may be not very strong in defence but basically outscores the opposition in every game.
This is a game that will be decided by no more than eight points, and where Elton Jantjies will be the man of the match, and Malcolm Marx will score the first try of the game.
I have been leading our tipping competition for most of the weeks now and it will be a shame not to have a winner. Dr. Geoff Parkes and the rest of the world will be tipping the Crusaders, so I will go for the Lions.
I am thinking that the Crusaders have been careless with cards and Mr Angus Gardner will not be afraid to draw them against the home team. And the expansive Lions game can do some damage. So, there is a small chance that the Lions win their third attempt to the title and I would not miss it for anything in the world.
SURE THING: Thanks to Brett, the rest of the panel, and especially all of you that feed us week in and out with great comments.
TIP: CRUSADERS by 18 points
First try: George Bridge
Player of the Final: Keiran Read
With the Crusaders’ run-on side containing twelve All Blacks, it’s no wonder the Lions have the job ahead of them on Saturday.
Of the three non-AB’s, ‘Aussie Pete’ Samu has already played Test rugby, George Bridge very likely will, which leaves Bryn Hall as the only mere mortal – and I’d back him in any day, over the Lions’ halfback Ross ‘Crab’ Cronje.
Whatever the Lions throw at them it’s hard to figure out how the Crusaders might lose. Their defence is very organised and efficient, their set piece impenetrable, their support play first-class and they are second to none at converting opportunities into points. There’s so many ticks in there that even a few Malcolm Marx turnovers will hardly touch the sides.
In all of their last three big matches (last year’s semi-final and final, and this year’s’ semi-final), the Lions have given away big starts. So look for them to be in touch after twenty-five minutes – if they are then perhaps we will have a contest on our hands.
Even so, it will take a huge performance from ‘Beltin’ Elton Jantjies – to kick well for field position, to spark try scoring opportunities and to kick his goals – if the Lions are to have any chance.
Whether he has the composure and maturity to do so, away from Ellis Park, at night, must be questionable.
TIP: CRUSADERS by 20
First try: George Bridge
Player of the Final: Richie Mo’unga
So here we are, the 2018 season drawing to a close and a final mimicking that of 2017, albeit with a different venue.
It is difficult for me to not see a Crusaders victory at home and the biggest reason is in their defence. It’s just so efficient I cannot see the Lions breaking through enough while also maintaining their own defensive line, which has shown to be vulnerable at times.
In the end I suspect the Crusaders will have a 20 point plus margin at full time; George Bridge will score a few including the first, while the man of the moment Richie Mo’unga will likely add another MOTM gong to his increasing case for starting at the next level.
Crusaders in a canter for me.
SURE THING: Robertson will be breaking out some new moves while Marx will earn more turnovers than Todd, or indeed anyone else.
TIP: CRUSADERS by 14
First try: Bryn Hall
Player of the Final: Ryan Crotty
Even since writing on Tuesday that I couldn’t see how the Crusaders don’t win this, I’ve been trying to think how the Lions might possibly have a chance. But I’ve still not come up with a way that holds water.
They way I see it, a Lions win only comes courtesy of some Crusaders misfortune. They’d have to suffer a crooked injury or two (or five, such is their depth), or an early red card a la Kwagga Smith in the 2017 final, or maybe a case of goal-kicking yips for Richie Mo’unga.
And that sure sounds like it’s discounting the possibility the Lions just having a genuine night out.
But the thing is, that the lead-in form of the two sides is such that even the Lions having a night out where they just can’t do anything wrong would still rely on something going wrong for the Crusaders. The Lions probably aren’t quite as strong at last season, but the Crusaders are unquestionably better than they were twelve months ago.
If the Crusaders played solid but unspectacular game by their standard, it’s still debatable whether an absolutely-on-song Lions side could knock them off. Maybe we’ll find that out on Saturday night.
That said, I can’t see it being quite the blow-out people expect. Two converted tries at the absolute maximum. The player who does the grunt-work will be crucial to a Crusaders championship, and no-one screams ‘grunt-work’ to me more than Ryan Crotty for Player of the Final. And the Final deserves nothing less than a sneaky halfback’s try to open the scoring; Bryn Hall, come on down.
SURE THING: I’d genuinely love for the Lions to win this match; I really would. I’d relish the opportunity to sing their praises next week. But this is simply the easiest tip of 2018.
Having been informed that this final round is worth 50 points, according to The Roar Constitution, I am making the obvious choice: Lions.
Lions, because Mal Marx is revolutionary. 24 turnovers won after the rule change. Twice the rate of turnovers per minute than Dave Pocock.
Lions, because Warren Whiteley is probably the nicest loose forward ever to play Test rugby. Lions, because to see them carry Elton Jantjies and still win is evidence of God’s tender mercies. Lions, because Ross Cronje’s slow-motion breaks are beautiful in the way Janis Joplin’s voice broke your heart.
Lions, because they have been the best team over the last few seasons if you forget they are the Buffalo Bills of Super Rugby. Lions, because Kwagga is supernatural. Lions, because Franco Mostert works his arse off.
Lions, because Razor has grown tiresome. Lions, because Aphiwe Dyantyi is the find of 2018.
Lions, because we need something exciting. Lions, just because.
SURE THING: Exploiting turnovers will be the key for the Lions’ upset.
Get your votes in now – The Crowd’s tips will be revealed Friday afternoon AEDT.
Who have you got, Roarers? Who gets your tip for the Final, and by how many?