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Lively Lions can give champion Crusaders a title fight

Back-to-back runners-up look less reliant on altitude

The Lions proved too strong for Los Jaguares in the quarter-finals
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Crusaders v Lions
Sky Sports Action, 8.35am Saturday

The Crusaders are 1-10 shots to keep hold of their Super Rugby crown when they tackle the Lions for a second successive final and it is not hard to see why.

The red-and-black machine have rolled over everyone at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch this campaign and last for 19 straight home wins. Thirteen of those victories came by a margin of 13 points or more including their four knockout-stage wins over the Hurricanes and Sharks this term and the Chiefs and Highlanders last year.

All Blacks kingpin number eight Kieran Read is firmly back in the fold after his sabbatical and the only change that head coach Scott Robertson makes to the starting side who secured a 30-12 triumph over the Canes last Saturday is enforced as flanker Jordan Taufua has fractured his arm.

The forecast is for a crisp, clear night so conditions are unlikely to cramp the hosts’ style against opponents who have scored only one try on their last three trips to Canterbury.

However, the Lions are a very different team to the meek outfits of 2008, 2010 and 2015 and look worth a bet with an 18-point start.

The Crusaders are bound to begin with the belief that a controlled performance is the key to a ninth title.

They claimed an eighth success in the Lions’ den last August with a 25-17 triumph and repeated the Ellis Park trick in round seven this season with a 14-8 lockdown. Both focused efforts can be traced to losing a 2016 Johannesburg quarter-final 42-25.

Last year the Lions undermined their own cause in the final with several early errors and a red card just before the break to livewire backrower Kwagga Smith all but sealed their fate. In 2016 they froze in the fog in Wellington when losing 20-3 to the Canes.

But they are an evolving squad under a different boss in Swys de Bruin and they no longer seem reliant upon the altitude of Joburg for positive displays.

The Lions’ standout result this season is a 28-0 success over the Waratahs in Sydney which was the first game of their antipodean tour and the Tahs rushed out to a 29-0 lead at the AMI before being overhauled.

Although the Lions have only claimed two other road wins this term, the most they lost by was 14 points in Buenos Aires and they crossed seven times across single-figure defeats at the Hurricanes and Highlanders.

Fit-again marauding hooker Malcolm Marx is value at 12-5 for a 12th try of the campaign.

Lions +18
1pt 10-11 general
M Marx to score a try
1pt 12-5 Betfair

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The Lions’ standout result this season is a 28-0 success over the Waratahs in Sydney
E.W. Terms
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