Crusaders hot favourites as Lions pray for a miracle
Wellington - The powerhouse Crusaders were installed as hot
favourites on Monday to win the Super Rugby crown on home turf next weekend,
with the Lions praying for a miracle.
The New Zealand outfit have a phenomenal record in play-off
matches, winning all 20 they have hosted in Christchurch.
If that was not ominous enough, the South Africans also face
an arduous flight ahead of the game.
New Zealand betting agency TAB had the Crusaders at $1.08 on
Monday to win a ninth Super title while the Lions were 7-1 outsiders to achieve
their target of avoiding a third straight final defeat.
During the regular season this year, the Crusaders won 14 of
16 matches, including a 14-8 victory over the Lions in Johannesburg. The Lions
won nine of their 16 games.
After the Wellington Hurricanes lost their semi-final to the
Crusaders 30-12 at the weekend, coach Chris Boyd rated the defending champions
as "20 points better than any side".
The Crusaders displayed their ruthless determination midway
through the season when they came from 29-0 down to beat the Waratahs 31-29.
With the Waratahs soundly beaten by the Lions 46-22 in their
semi-final in Johannesburg on Saturday, captain Bernard Foley weighed up the
two matches and found it difficult to pick a winner in the final.
The Lions "definitely have a chance", Foley said,
while Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson rated the Lions pack as "equal to the
Crusaders" eight. But he said they may have to review their tactics.
"I think a sort of the all-court, all-field game is
going to be the real challenge for the Lions," said Gibson, a former
Crusaders and All Blacks teammate with now Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.
"The Crusaders are very good with the ball in hand and
getting to those edges.
"It's going to be a brilliant encounter, it's going to
be incredibly physical and that's the way the Lions should approach it."
Lions coach Swys de Bruin insisted his side have learned
from the mistakes made when they lost to the Hurricanes and the Crusaders in
the last two finals, although he conceded the Crusaders had to be favourites.
"I believe in miracles and this team has proven it. So
anything can happen," he said.
"The Crusaders are the favourites, they are a very good
team, but it is still 80 minutes between four white lines so it will be
The last time the Crusaders hosted a final at home was 10
years ago when they beat the Waratahs at Lancaster Park, which was destroyed in
a devastating 2011 earthquake.
From that side, Kieran Read, Wyatt Crocket and Tim Bateman
remain in the squad.