Lions final incentive to tame Hurricanes

    2017-07-27 07:15

    Sydney - The Lions must overcome defending champions Hurricanes on Saturday if they are to host this year's Super Rugby decider in their first meeting with New Zealand opposition this season.

    The Lions will stay in Johannesburg if they win a rematch of last year's Wellington final and take on either the Crusaders or fellow New Zealanders Chiefs. 

    The Crusaders, bidding for a record eight Super Rugby titles, have home advantage in Saturday's other semi-final in Christchurch. 

    The Lions, under outgoing coach Johan Ackermann, have won 15 of their 16 games and finished on top of this season's standings to claim home ground advantage at Ellis Park should they win through to the final. 

    It would be only the fourth time a Super Rugby final has been staged in South Africa since 1996.

    But the Hurricanes, expected to be strengthened by the return of dynamic All Blacks hooker Dane Coles, will be a tough nut to crack. 

    Wellington were the last team to beat the Lions at home in Super Rugby, a spanking 50-17 win on April 30 last year. 

    "The Hurricanes are a team that play in your face," said Ackermann. 

    "They like to put teams under pressure and they did that to us last year, so hopefully we'll handle that pressure better this time." 

    Coles, widely regarded as the best hooker in the game, returned to action for the 'Canes in their quarter-final win against the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend coming off the bench.

    He is expected to start in Johannesburg for the first time since March after being sidelined with concussion issues. 

    A key match-up will be between the flyhalves, with the Hurricanes playmaker Beauden Barrett up against Elton Jantjes for the Lions. 

    "Elton has been consistently good this season. He just had a bad game last weekend (against the Sharks), which happens to all 10s," Hurricanes assistant John Plumtree said. 

    "He didn't kick well against the Sharks last week but could easily knock everything over against us. I know Elton well and he would have worked hard during the week." 

    The Crusaders have named an unchanged side for their clash with the Chiefs. 

    It is the third time in Super Rugby these two rivals have faced off in a semi-final, with the Chiefs winning on both previous occasions. 

    Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson said it was a different time and different circumstances.

    "They used their home ground advantage on those occasions, but this time we have earned the chance to play in front of our own supporters and that means a lot to us," Robertson said.

    "To see so many of our supporters still come out to the game last weekend in such miserable conditions was humbling, so that is even more motivation for the team to put on a performance to make the fans proud." 

    Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said he would much prefer to face the Hurricanes in the final in Wellington, rather than making another long trek to South Africa, should his team overcome the Crusaders. 

    "Clearly, we'd prefer to go to Wellington because it means we get to go home," Rennie said.

    "We've had success down there in the past, we know we're playing a really good side who's probably been the form team but we'll back ourselves."

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