5 talking points: Super Rugby semi-finals
Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after the 2018 Super Rugby semi-finals:
1. Crusaders unstoppable at home
The Crusaders’ 30-12 victory over the Hurricanes was their 20th straight home playoff victory in the competition’s history.
It’s a record that dates back to 1998 when the Crusaders played in their first semi-final, beating the Sharks 36-32 in Christchurch.
The following week, the Crusaders stunned the then-formidable Blues 30-23 in the final at Eden Park which started their dominance of the competition.
They’ll be heavy favourites to beat the Lions in Christchurch this weekend and claim a ninth Super Rugby crown.
2. Foundation of Lions win laid up front
There was no panic in the Lions camp when they went down 14-0 early against the Waratahs at Ellis Park.
The home side stuck to their guns and eventually wore the Waratahs down by dominating them at set piece time.
The Lions were far superior in the scrums and lineouts and also executed their driving maul to perfection.
The high altitude eventually caught up with the visitors and they appeared out on their feet in the second period.
3. Kwagga sparks Lions revival
The Blitzboks no doubt missed Kwagga Smith in their recent Rugby World Cup Sevens semi-final defeat to England.
But the sevens game’s loss was certainly the XV-a-side format’s gain as Smith produced an inspiring performance in the Lions’ victory.
It was the loose forward's spectacular try which sparked the Lions comeback and set the tone for the remainder of the match.
Smith, who was named the official man-of-the-match, is not only a menace at the breakdown, but is proving increasingly tough to stop with ball in hand.
If Smith’s not breaking through tackles, then he’s getting over the advantage line and could prove a handful in Christchurch this weekend.
4. Yellow cards prove game changing
The yellow card handed to Waratahs hooker Damien Fitzpatrick in the 57th minute proved vital in the final outcome.
The game was in the balance when Fitzpatrick was sent to the sin-bin, with the home side narrowly ahead by 22-19.
Fitzpatrick was in an offside position when a Lions player had passed the ball into him, prompting referee Glen Jackson to go to his pocket.
The hosts scored a try off a driving maul straight afterwards and it likely knocked the wind out of the Waratahs’ sails.
The Sydneysiders can argue that earlier in the game one of their players had passed the ball into Lions prop Ruan Dreyer, who was also in an off-side position.
In that scenario, the referee only awarded a penalty.
5. Win or lose, give the Lions credit
The Lions will likely lose Saturday’s final in Christchurch.
It will leave them as runners-up for three consecutive years, but credit needs to be given to the top brass of the franchise who produced a remarkable turnaround in fortunes in recent years.
It’s hard to believe that this team did not play Super Rugby in 2013 - when SA Rugby allowed the Kings to enter the fray.
In recent times, the Lions have lost several players - including inspirational coach Johan Ackermann - but still fought their way into another Super Rugby final.
Their achievements in recent years have left egg on the faces of the other South African franchises...