FINAL PREVIEW: Lions v Crusaders

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Thursday, August 3, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Lions v Crusaders, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 2.00am, August 6, 2017 (NZT)

The two best teams have made the final and they go into it with identical records having one loss and 16 wins apiece. But they have been achieved in markedly different circumstances with the Crusaders having by far the tougher end of the deal. They have played each other 20 times over the years with the Crusaders having taken 15 wins to the Lions' five. However, the biggest piece of history the Crusaders have to confront involves the last barrier to success in Super Rugby history – achieving a win after crossing the Indian Ocean in the play-offs. It's never been done before and, in fact, the only time any water, other than Cook Strait, has been crossed to win the final was when the Crusaders beat the Brumbies in Canberra in 2000. Should the Lions win, they will become only the second South African side, after the Bulls in 2007 and 2009-10 to win the title while they would also surpass the Crusaders' feat earlier of winning 14 games in a row during the season. Lions first five-eighths Elton Jantjies will play his 100th Super Rugby game in the final and is 10 points shy of scoring 200 points in the competition in a season. Another statistic the Lions can achieve is that of most points in a Super Rugby season. That was set by them last year when scoring 622 but the Hurricanes finished on 660 last week and the Lions this year are only three points behind them.

While Crusaders' coach Scott Robertson has reached a final at his first attempt, his rival, Johann Ackermann is coaching the Lions for the last time having led them to the final last year only to be beaten by the Hurricanes. He's well aware of the job ahead of his side although he feels it is a privilege to be up against a side with such a proud record in the competition. "They've been admired, even in my days as a player, they were one of the toughest games," he said. "There is no margin for error against a side like the Crusaders. They've got a great scrum, they've got a great lineout. Defensively they kept out all the teams in the playoffs, only conceded one try in 160 minutes of playoff rugby so we know we are up against a great defensive side."

There will be a heavy emphasis on the play of the tight five from both sides in their scrummaging and lineout work, but as always the battle of the breakdown will be crucial for both sides as they look for the sort of quick ball so vital to their running aspirations. Crusaders flanker Matt Todd has been in outstanding touch for the side this year and has had great support from Jordan Taufua. But, equally, the Lions have been able to call on Kwagga Smith who has played his first full season for the side having put aside his Sevens aspirations. He was up for the challenge against the Hurricanes last week and along with Jaco Kriel will ensure a tremendous contest in the loose on Sunday.


Lions: 1.Jacques van Rooyen, 2.Malcolm Marx, 3.Ruan Dreyer, 4.Andries Ferreira, 5.Franco Mostert, 6.Jaco Kriel (captain), 7.Kwagga Smith, 8.Ruan Ackermann, 9.Ross Cronje, 10.Elton Jantjies, 11.Courtnall Skosan, 12.Harold Vorster, 13.Lionel Mapoe, 14.Ruan Combrinck, 15.Andries Coetzee.

Substitutes: 16.Akker van der Merwe, 17.Corne Fourie, 18.Johannes Jonker, 19.Loursens Erasmus, 20.Cyle Brink, 21.Faf de Klerk, 22.Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23.Sylvian Mahuza.

Crusaders: 1.Joe Moody, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Sam Whitelock (captain), 6.Jordan Taufua, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Kieran Read, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.Seta Tamanivalu, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Israel Dagg, 15.David Havili.

Substitutes: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Michael Alaalatoa, 19.Luke Romano, 20.Pete Samu, 21.Mitchell Drummond, 22.Mitchell Hunt, 23.George Bridge.

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