Lions can find their roar after the interval
Hard schedule and conditions may take a toll on Crusaders
Lions v Crusaders
Sky Sports Mix, 3pm Saturday
The Lions with a start of one point on the second-half handicap looks the best bet in a tasty Super Rugby final in Johannesburg.
The Crusaders crushed the Cheetahs 48-21 and battered the Bulls 62-24 when they played at altitude in South Africa in the regular season, but Ellis Park has become a fortress in the last two campaigns for the Lions. They have suffered only two defeats in 19 home outings including their last four knockout encounters.
Three of the post-season wins have been over New Zealand sides including a 42-25 eliminator success over the Crusaders.
Last Saturday, the Lions avenged last year’s final loss to the Hurricanes with a tour de force second half as they showed the benefit of a kind schedule that saw them pip the Christchurch men to top ranking by scoring more bonus points.
The Canes led 22-10 at the interval but they were blown away by the power of the Lions pack around the breakdown and set-piece.
Hooker Malcolm Marx, openside flanker Kwagga Smith and both half-backs scored four of their five tries. It was a similar story against the Sharks in the quarter-finals when they prevailed 23-21 courtesy of a long-range Ruan Combrinck penalty after trailing at the break.
This season Joburg regulars have seen 59 home tries and it is 17 games since they were not treated to three home tries in a game. Wings Combrinck and Courtnal Skosan have dotted down 12 times between them this term.
Last year, the Crusaders won the regular-season battle between the teams at Ellis Park 43-37 and Super Rugby’s winning-most franchise look in the mood to fully punish error-strewn passages of play by ther Lions.
However, even if the Crusaders claim an eighth crown it is hard not to see them running out of steam in the second half after an intense All Blacks v British & Irish Lions tour and three straight slugfests with the Canes, Highlanders and Chiefs. Jet-lag and Joburg’s rarefied air may take its toll too.
Lions +1 on second-half handicap
3pts 10-11 Hills
Lions A Coetzee; R Combrinck, L Mapoe, H Vorster, C Skosan; E Jantjies, R Cronje; J Van Rooyen, M Marx, R Dreyer; A Ferreira, F Mostert, J Kriel, A Smith, R Ackerman; replacements A van der Merwe, C Fourie, J Jonker, L Erasmus, C Brink, F de Klerk, R J van Rensburg, S Mahuza.
Crusaders D Havili; I Dagg, J Goodhue, R Crotty, S Tamanivalu; R Mo’unga, B Hall; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks, S Barrett, S Whitelock, J Taufua, M Todd, K Read; replacements B Funnell, W Crockett, M Alaalatoa, L Romanu, P Samu, M Drummond, M Hunt, G Bridge.
Referee J Peyper (SA)
Venue Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Weather Sunny afternoon, minimal westerly wind; 18C.
Recent meetings – 2016 eliminator: Lions 42 Crusaders 25; 2016 round six: Lions 37 Crusaders 43, 2015 round five: Crusaders 34 Lions 6; 2014 round eight: Lions 7 Crusaders 28.