How the Lions can achieve the impossible in Christchurch
Saturday’s Super Rugby final between the Crusaders and the Lions will be the latter’s third attempt at cross-continental glory.
Having spat the dummy at home against the same opposition‚ the Lions will have to do it the hard way against a side that doesn’t lose playoff games at home. Here are five things they need to look out for and do to win in Christchurch.
Don’t concede early
The Lions have got out of jail in three of their last four playoff games but as they learnt the hard way last year‚ the Crusaders aren’t the type who let an early lead slip. They have the substance and the resilience to hold and extend a lead.
The Lions overturned a 14-0 deficit but that was against the Waratahs. Last year they reeled in the Sharks and the Hurricanes but those were home games. Christchurch is at sea level and the Lions have the added disadvantage of heavy legs because of travelling.
This Crusaders team is an awesome one that hasn’t lost a home game in two years. The last thing you want is to play catch-up in a cup final‚ where narrow margins are applicable.
Play to the whistle
Rightly so‚ the New Zealand sides are judged to get the rub of the green when it comes to 50/50 refereeing decisions. The last thing a team can afford is to get on the wrong side of the match official.
There’s also the significant matter of Angus Gardner being a very good match official‚ but there’s something in the New Zealand water that often sees match officials making some strange calls. Gardner can take a leaf from Jaco Peyper’s brave and ultimately faultless performance in last year’s final but the onus is on the Lions to keep themselves in the ref’s good books. That’s the first part in moving the Crusader mountain.
Keep Bryn Hall quiet
Bryn Hall may not be tops of the New Zealand scrumhalf pops but the quality of his passing leaves watchers in no doubt in regards to his importance to the home team’s cause. There’s none of the two-step passing that’s currently afflicting South African rugby and his bullet passes from the base of the ruck and set-pieces allow the Crusaders to attack the ball flatter than any other team and still get over the advantage line with ease.
The Lions need to cut the supply from the head and this could disrupt the currently smooth Richie Mo’unga‚ who’s had more time than any other pivot in the tournament to perform his trickery. However‚ to get to Hall‚ the Lions need to dominate the Crusaders in the collisions and no team has done that with a great deal of success this season.
Constant competing at lineouts
The Crusaders have a lineout doctor in Luke Romano who may not always be able to start matches‚ but knows how to pick lineouts apart. Then there are the seasoned and skilled practitioners in Sam Whitelock‚ Kieran Read and Scott Barrett‚ which makes one realise that the Crusaders lineout is a formidable one‚ if not the best in the competition.
The Lions are efficient in this department but one of the cornerstones of the Crusaders’ win in Johannesburg last year was the successful disruption of the Lions’ lineout.
Malcolm Marx is back in full force but his throwing in crucial matches has left a lot to be desired. It is a worry the Lions need to shrug very quickly because the a faulty lineout has been at the heart of their losses in the two recent finals.
The Lions have the personnel to deal with wet weather but their halfbacks haven’t always covered themselves in glory when dealing with wet conditions. If it rains‚ it would be the perfect opportunity for Elton Jantjies to redeem himself after the disappointment of failing in wet conditions when the Springboks lost to England in Cape Town.
This is probably the last chance the Lions have of winning the tournament and champion teams always find a way to win‚ regardless of the conditions. The Lions will have to demonstrate this championship ability even though they’ve got the weight of history to contend with.