The scheduling of Super Rugby matches defies logic. The refrain of many commentators and fans
Lions the best team?
Yes: if they can beat the Hurricanes tomorrow and the Crusaders, or Chiefs, the following Saturday.
The South African team did top the table, so they were the best side through the 15 rounds of pre-finals competition? This is highly debatable.
For some unfathomable reason, the Lions only played other South African teams, the Argentine Jaguares, Japan’s Sunwolves and the very weak Australian teams.
On their way to the top of the table they did not play the second, third, fourth or fifth highest teams in the rankings. In other words, they played no New Zealand franchises.
Semi-finals time: can the Hurricanes come through?
By topping the standing the Lions have home advantage in the final, if they beat the Hurricanes. The Wellington based franchise had to go to Canberra last weekend to play the Brumbies who had 24 less competition points! (Another nonsense in the rules of competition.)
Now the Hurricanes are in Johannesburg to play the Lions. On paper the visitors have a stronger team with a backline mainly made up of All Blacks, and a very competitive forward pack. Another plus is the return of inspirational hooker, Dane Coles.
However they have had to travel thousands of kilometres in the last ten days and will be greeted by a hostile crowd at Ellis Park. Nevertheless, there will be a steely determination among the players to be in the final next week, to see if they can retain their Super Rugby title.
Crusaders and Chiefs: well matched
This semi-final is in Christchurch and home advantage is a big factor. The strength of the Crusaders is in their forwards which is littered with All Blacks, including three international props! They are great in the set pieces and are renowned for winning turn-overs through the skills of loosies Matt Todd and Jordan Taufua.
Their backs defend strongly and are capable of exploiting errors by the opposition to run in tries against the run of play.
They finished second in the standings and won seven games against the other powerful New Zealand sides, only losing to the Hurricanes, away from home, in their last match of the pre-finals competition.
They will be hard to beat.
The Chiefs will have the edge in the backs where they have match-winners in fullback Damien McKenzie and winger James Lowe, and All Blacks from half back to the centres.
Their forward pack is also very handy. Brodie Retallick is probably the best lock on the planet and Sam Cane is one of the current All Black flankers.
However, the Chiefs won’t win if they adopt the disastrous tactics used by the Highlanders in last week’s quarter final at AMI Stadium. The visitors relentlessly kicked away the limited possession they had.
The high kick and hope approach occasionally comes off, but usually it doesn’t.
The final: three possibilities
- In Johannesburg with the winner of the Christchurch game playing the Lions
- In Wellington if the Hurricanes and Chiefs win their semi-finals
- In Christchurch if the Lions lose and the Crusaders prevail over the Chiefs.
Probably the smart money would be on the third option.
However the other two are definitely possibilities. We’ll know on Sunday morning!