Forget the Sentiment
The Lions once the whipping boys of Super Rugby has turned into one of the most feared teams in the tournament. On Saturday they will be playing the second consecutive final, not bad for a team who in 2013 had to play promotion relegation games to get back into the tournament. Johan Ackerman took a bunch of rejects and created a side that in 2017 and beyond will be the spine of Springbok rugby. The onus will be on these players to do something that no other South African team has done in 7 years. They came close last year, but forget about that, forget that Coach Johan Ackermann will not be coaching the side next season. Forget the sentiment, If they do what they’ve been doing right all season, they will be crowned champions on Saturday.
Home ground advantage
It will be the first time since 2010 that South Africa will host a Super Rugby final, the last one funny enough was also in Johannesburg at the Orlando stadium when the Bulls beat the Stormers to earn their third Super Rugby title. So it’s no surprise that more than 60 000 tickets for the final at Emirates Airline Park were sold out in just a few hours. The 60 000 people who were lucky enough to get tickets will also have an important part to play on Saturday. The so called 16th man will have to do duty especially if the Crusaders manage to put the Lions under pressure. And when I say do duty, I don’t mean BOO when the opponents kick for goal. I’m talking about creating an atmosphere that will be so overwhelming for the Crusaders that they start making mistakes and lose focus.
The Kicking game
Both teams have prolific kickers and tactical kicks, conversations and slotting penalties will be very important. All eyes will be on Lions no 10 Elton Jantjies, after a disappointing quarterfinal against the Sharks he came back with a sterling performance against the Hurricanes in the Semi-final, Jantjies however might dictate play for the team from Jozi but scrumhalf Ross Cronje, wing Ruan Combrink and fullback Andries Coetzee all poses kicking skills that could put their opponents under pressure. The Lions will have to use these players to create a variety of kicking options and keep their opponents guessing .
The old saying “It starts up front” will be a reality on Saturday. If the Lions forwards can put the Crusaders under pressure scrum time, lineouts and at the breakdown it will be half the battle won. Also their loose forwards like Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith are masters at creating turnover ball and running into space. If the Lions dominate up front it will give their dangerous back opportunity to attack.
The one criticism I have with the Lions is that they leak soft tries. Not only in the first half of their semi-final against the Hurricanes but also earlier this season against teams like the Sharks, Kings and Waratahs. If this happens on Saturday against the Crusaders, Johan Ackermann’s fairy-tale send-off might just turn into a nightmare.
The Lions will not underestimate their opponents on Saturday, if they even think of doing this that is asking for trouble. The Crusaders are desperate to end their trophy drought and spoiling will be intent on spoiling the Lions party on Saturday.