Rugby

Super Rugby Final: Lions vs. Crusaders Preview

After all the shake-ups Super Rugby has undergone over the last few years, such as the addition of new teams, conferences, and groups, there is more than a little familiarity about this weekend’s final between the Crusaders and the Lions.

The two sides that finished the regular season with the most points meet on Saturday at Ellis Park, Johannesburg – kick off 14:00 GMT. It pits the team that has won more Super Rugby titles than any other (Crusaders) against the side with the fewest defeats in the last three months (Lions).

Crusaders form

The Crusaders finished on top of the Australasian group with an outstanding record of 14 wins and just one loss – late in the season, to the Hurricanes – and did so by racking up 63 points in the process. They scored 77 tries, fewer only than the Hurricanes, conceding 37 at the same time.

Shortly after losses to the Hurricanes and the British & Irish Lions, Crusaders beat Highlanders 17-0 in the first knockout stage, using home advantage to full effect. In the semi-final, they beat the Chiefs 27-13. They were clinical in defence on both occasions.

Lions form

The Lions matched Crusaders’ record of 14 wins and one defeat – away to the Jaguares – in the African group, but managed a couple more points overall, thanks to 81 tries scored and just 27 tries conceded.

They then had to battle to beat fellow South Africans the Sharks in the qualifier, 23-21. In the semi-final, the Lions produced a rousing comeback to beat the Hurricanes 44-29, making the most of the New Zealanders being down to 14 men for a period and performing better at altitude than their visitors. They are currently on a 14-game unbeaten streak, just two short of the overall Super Rugby record.

Previous meetings and history

Looking at the last five meetings between these two sides, the Crusaders have won four and the Lions one. However, the Lions victory came in last year’s playoff, where they knocked the Crusaders out. On that day, the South Africans won 42-25. The time before that, Crusaders won 43-37, suggesting that if both teams come out and play their best rugby, we could see lots of points.

Crusaders have won the Super Rugby title seven times and have appeared in 11 finals. However, their last title was back in 2008 and they made the final most recently in 2014. The Lions, meanwhile, have never won the title but lost out in last year’s final to the Hurricanes – making this year’s semi-final success all the sweeter. That was their only final appearance.

Betting odds and predictions

The only Super Rugby matches these two sides lost in the season so far have been away from home (although Crusaders were beaten by the British & Irish Lions on home soil).

That hands the Lions an immediate advantage as they will host the final, courtesy of their superior league record. On both of their visits to South Africa this season, Crusaders came away victorious while the Lions beat the Hurricanes in the semi-final, their first outing against a New Zealand side this season.

Accordingly, most bookmakers make the Crusaders the narrow favourites. Ladbrokes offer 10/11 and make the Lions Evens to win, although William Hill go 11/10 against. On the other hand, Stan James cannot separate them, offering both at 5/6.

Ladbrokes give the Lions a 1 point handicap, which shows just how close the match is expected to be.

1 – BET365 ODDS

Top betting tip

This match is a hard one to call. Most finals are. These are two sides at the peak of their game, sticking to game plans that have worked, and both will take advantage of most opportunities they receive.

While this is an excellent Crusaders side, they are beatable. We do not know exactly how they will cope with the atmosphere at Ellis Park. A packed house will roar on the home side and they have to deal with playing at an altitude they are not used to week in, week out.

The Lions will put them under enormous pressure; they will score tries and backed by their home fans, I think they can lift their first Super Rugby crown. History is also on their side – only once, when the Crusaders did it in 2000 – has a team won the Super Rugby final away from home and only once has a South African outfit failed to beat an opponent from New Zealand in a Super Rugby final at home.

It feels like the Lions’ time. We recommend backing them at 11/10 with William Hill.


John PenningtonGeneral