S18: Hopes of SA-staged final dip
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Two
priceless derby victories in a row at a time when they were potentially at their
most vulnerable have increased the likelihood that the still-unbeaten Crusaders
will march all the way to a home final in Super Rugby 2017.
their tour to South Africa, with its customary time-zone drawbacks, successive
games straight afterwards against the Hurricanes, last year’s champions, and the
Chiefs in neutral Suva looked like their most perilous obstacles of the season
seven-time champions have now banked victories in both all-NZ affairs, a happy
situation for them culminating in Friday’s hard-earned 31-24 outcome (from a
half-time deficit) against the Mooloo Men before a lively Fijian crowd.
been major statements of intent -- as if we even needed to see them -- as the
‘Saders, now 12 from 12 in ordinary season, hungrily seek their first title
victory would have been infinitely more convenient at this point for the
ambitious Lions, wanting to go one better than last season’s losing finalists
status in Wellington and give departing coach Johan Ackermann the send-off he
have been the tangible foot in the door the Johannesburg-based side need in the
quest to tee up a home showpiece – bearing in mind that no team has yet been
able to cross the Indian Ocean to win a final in the competition.
Crusaders, even if it was the second match in a row where they could not add
the bonus-point cherry for three-try-or-more superiority, cranked their log
tally up to 54 points from a dozen fixtures.
them now lie only remaining obligations against the Rebels (away), Highlanders
(home) and Hurricanes (away); if they win all three they simply will not be
caught by anyone as they would advance to a minimum of 66 points – and that
assumes no further bonus points, which is fairly unlikely.
most points, requiring full-house wins each time, that the Lions (46 points, 11
games thus far) can finish on is also 66; they have four matches remaining,
including Saturday’s evening’s home derby against the Bulls. Then come Kings
(home), Sunwolves (home) and Sharks (away).
Crusaders have widening superiority in points differential terms (plus-225,
versus plus-137) and of course the Lions sport that one loss blemish, against
the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
have to cling to now-receding hopes that they keep up their own recent winning
habit and the ‘Saders do still slip on a banana peel somewhere to create a possible
out-of-form Bulls with a bonus point in tow on Saturday would be a good way to
keep some semblance of pressure on the Crusaders from Warren Whiteley and
reason for the Lions to retain current standards is the possibility that the
Crusaders waste their No 1-seeding, if they get it, by crashing ahead of the
final in the knockout phase – something that cannot be discounted.
yet open a different route for the Lions to a Highveld-staged final on August
last hosted the showpiece back in 2010, when the Bulls won the last of their
three titles, beating the Stormers 25-17 at Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
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