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    Lions coach defiant in accepting underdog tag

    2018-08-03 09:31

    Christchurch - The Lions have defiantly rejected their allocated role in the narrative around Saturday's Super Rugby final - as the last, minor obstacle on the Crusaders' road to a ninth championship.

    READ: Crusaders hit back at Lions' illegal scrum claim

    According to that storyline, the defending champion Crusaders are certain to add to their record tally of eight titles and the Johannesburg-based Lions, beaten finalists in each of the last two years, are brave underdogs, likely to put up a fight before succumbing to a heavy loss.

    In the traditional rounds of gamesmanship that precede a major final, coaches are happy to embrace the underdog tag, believing it relieves pressure and provides extra motivation. The Crusaders did so before beating the Lions 25-17 in last year's final in Johannesburg.

    But coach Swys de Bruin has rejected the suggestion the Lions are destined to be three-time losers. While acknowledging the strength of the Crusaders, who topped the regular season table with a 14-2 record and swept through the quarter-finals and semi-finals with wins over the Sharks (40-10) and Hurricanes (30-12), he says the Lions are going to Christchurch to "do a job."

    The Crusaders are unbeaten in 20 playoff matches in Christchurch. But while De Bruin said a win would be a miracle, he added: "I believe in miracles."

    "The fact is that they are favourites, they are a very good team. But it is still 80 minutes between four white lines so it will be interesting."

    De Bruin has made two minor personnel changes but says there will be no change to the style of play that has carried the Lions to the final. The Lions' forward pack is formidable and it's rolling maul, steered by hooker Malcolm Marx, is the best in the tournament.

    De Bruin endorsed the ability of Elton Jantjies to guide the Lions' backline, though the mercurial flyhalf is often criticised in South Africa.

    Most importantly, De Bruin cautioned against being caught up in emotions surrounding what could be the last match for several Lions poised to leave at the end of the season.

    "What is vital is to not make the occasion too big this time around, with too many emotions and about individuals and stuff," he said. "It has to be about the team, just about the team and stick to what works for us."

    In one dig at the Crusaders, De Bruin suggested their success might be due in part to generous treatment for New Zealand teams from referees. He will meet Australian referee Angus Gardner before the match to appeal for fairness.

    "They can't, because they are champions and people think they are good, get away with certain stuff," De Bruin told SuperSport. "I will make sure we meet with the refs about that.

    "Because, going through their clips ... there is a lot of things they get away with, more than other teams get away with."

    Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who won the title last year in his first season in charge, said De Bruin's comments were "potentially" an attempt at gamesmanship.

    "One thing is we have got great line speed," he said. "(Backs coach) Ronan O'Gara has spent a lot of time creating a real strength for us which is the ability to get off the line. Maybe that is why it is mentioned."

    A problem for the Lions is the Crusaders have no obvious weaknesses. Their pack is of such strength that Robertson was forced to leave All Blacks loosehead Wyatt Crockett out of his match-day 23 - it would have been Crockett's last match and he is the Crusaders' most-capped player.

    The Crusaders backline is clinically efficient, guided by young flyhalf Richie Mo'unga who last week outplayed the All Blacks incumbent Beauden Barrett.

    Robertson expected a "brutal" game on Saturday.

    "When they get their strengths right, mauls and scrums, they're tough," he said. "It shows they deserve to be in the final.

    "They get to travel this time and they'll be just as emotional and passionate around getting to their maiden title so we're going to have to be very good."

    Saturday's clash is scheduled for 09:35 (SA time).

    Teams:

    Crusaders

    15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody

    Substitutes: 16 Sam Anderson-Heather, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor

    Lions

    15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrink, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen

    Substitutes: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 23 Howard Mnisi

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    Fixtures

    Friday, 31 January 2020
    • Blues v Chiefs, Eden Park 08:05
    • Brumbies v Reds, GIO Stadium 10:15
    • Sharks v Bulls, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 19:10
    Saturday, 01 February 2020
    • Sunwolves v Rebels, Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium 05:45
    • Crusaders v Waratahs, Trafalgar Park 08:05
    • Stormers v Hurricanes, Cape Town 15:05
    Sunday, 02 February 2020
    • Jaguares v Lions, Estadio Jose Amalfitani 01:00

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