Five key battles that could decide the Super Rugby final
With every final‚ there are the battles within the battle to ensure all-round superiority and Saturday's Super Rugby final between the Lions and the Crusaders will be no different.
Here are the key battles that could shape this contest at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Codie Taylor v Malcolm Marx
The nice thing about this contest is that it’ll give watchers an inside lane in terms of how these two explosive hookers will be squaring up against each other in national team colours.
Taylor is the best that New Zealand has in Dane Coles’s injury absence‚ but he’s world-class in his own right. Marx is right up there with the best in the world‚ if not one of the best in the world and the injury break that saw him miss the June test matches has seemingly done him a world of good.
His energy in the Lions pack was missed along with his ball pilfering abilities. Marx must guard against allowing Sam Whitelock‚ Kieran Read‚ Scott Barrett and Luke Romano from getting into his head because in key moments against the All Blacks in test matches‚ Marx’s throwing has sometimes gone to pieces.
That said‚ Franco Mostert‚ Marvin Orie‚ Cyle Brink and Warren Whiteley are decent lineout operators who on their day‚ can bring hell on earth for Taylor.
Sam Whitelock v Franco Mostert
Both teams are stacked with quality lineout jumpers but this contest between these generals will have an influence in how the game pans out.
Whitelock seemingly has a way of dominating South African lineouts when he hits his stride – he doesn't seem to have a worthy competitor. Mostert though is a thoroughbred and while he may not be the best lock South Africa has in its stocks‚ he’s on form and knows what it takes to compete on an even keel with Whitelock.
A lot will also depend on how the other lineout jumpers fare but they will take direction from the two No.5s. They also have to put in serious open play and tight shifts but like the Taylor/Marx contest‚ this one could also provide a test match glimpse as a final is the closest thing to a test.
Bryn Hall/Richie Mo’unga v Ross Cronje/Elton Jantjies
The Crusaders half-back combination is one of less is more. Hall passes and does so very well while Mo’unga has made life very uncomfortable for Steve Hansen and Beauden Barrett.
Mo’unga had big shoes to fill when Dan Carter finally left the Crusaders but last season he showed up as a match-winner of serious reckoning. Hall‚ who’s the best passer in the tournament‚ has given him time and space to perform all of his simple trickery and match-management. They're a match made in South Island heaven.
Cronje and Jantjies have complemented each other very well but they’ll need to find an extra gear. Jantjies‚ in particular‚ will have a lot to prove‚ especially with the fact that he hasn’t quite rocked up for the two finals he’s guided his team to.
This is the perfect stage for him to display the Big Match Temperament he’s often criticised for but he’ll also need Ross Cronje to be accurate in all facets.
Ryan Crotty/Jack Goodhue v Harold Vorster/Lionel Mapoe
Ryan Crotty has been with the Crusaders through thick and thin. He’s at the heart of everything good the team does and also has the necessary experience to keep the backs calm in pressure cooker situations.
With Crotty on his inside‚ it was expected of Goodhue to develop in leaps and bounds. Mapoe hasn’nt been at this best this season and in the previous finals‚ he also went missing when it was expected of him to step up to the occasion.
Vorster has gone about his business quietly this season but hasn’t set the scene alight. The Lions midfield channel is going to be targeted by the Crusaders.
Seta Tamanivalu v Aphiwe Dyantyi
Dyantyi will be coming off the bench but in the time that he’ll be on the field‚ he’ll have to deal with the freight truck that is Tamanivalu. Again this is a contest that’ll give the rugby world a glimpse into what could be a test match contest even though Tamanivalu is behind Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo in the All Black right wing pecking order.
One would hope for Dyantyi‚ who was passed fit to travel earlier this week‚ to have more time in what will be a testing environment against an excellent opponent. Dyantyi has been the find of the season and regardless of how the final pans out‚ a good performance will set him up well for the Rugby Championship.