Lions v Crusaders: So much to like

    2017-07-29 07:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – It has the potential to be one of the classic Super Rugby showpieces … certainly one which will require a minimum of promotional spin to generate public interest.

    If some of the more cash-conscious among Johannesburg rugby fans took the gamble of sacrificing attendance of Saturday’s semi against the Hurricanes (a slightly disappointing 28 000 did show up at Emirates Airline Park), on the assumption that the Lions would march onward to next weekend’s final, their eagerness to bag tickets for the big ‘un against the Crusaders ought to be in considerably less doubt.

    It will be a surprise if the famous venue isn’t packed to the rafters, only making it an even more intimidating place, for the massively fitting swansong of Johan Ackermann as head coach of a franchise he has lifted from literally down-and-out status to amidst the now-indisputable cream of Super Rugby sides.

    The Lions, who tripped at the final hurdle against the ‘Canes in Wellington last year – although they have avenged that by unseating them from that status via a 44-29 score-line from a pulsating contest on Saturday – will seldom get a better chance to etch their name on the modern Super Rugby trophy as they try to go one better by doing so at their beloved Highveld home.

    Weight of history will be an enormous obstacle for their opponents from Canterbury, given the raw fact that no team has yet crossed the Indian Ocean either way to win a final.

    That said, if any outfit was going to break that formidable duck, it would probably be a shrewd call to venture the ‘Saders, the market-leading, seven-time champions.

    They are desperate to end a nine-year barren period since their last triumph in 2008, as evidenced by their own sprightly progress through ordinary season, in which they were only knocked off top spot overall by the Lions on the last day of that phase.

    It is extremely pleasing, in a competition marred by its structural injustice in many respects, that probably the best two sides of 2017 have qualified for the final, even if this was a year where the Lions (who, it must be reminded, earned some quality NZ scalps last season) dodged New Zealand opponents until the semis juncture.

    The Lions ended the pre-knockout phase with just one defeat from 15 matches (65 points), and ditto the Crusaders (63 points).

    Although they were next best with 58 points, the Hurricanes suffered three losses along the way and Saturday’s brave semis surrender extends that tally to four.

    Whilst proud pedigree will be a key ally for the travelling Crusaders – oh yes, they have a few pretty decent players too, don’t they? – the drawbacks associated with another journey through time zones at the end of a gruelling campaign aren’t the only reasons to suggest the Lions may well earn the backing, albeit narrowly, of the majority of bookies.

    The dramatic, breathless semi-final only served as a sharp reminder of just how increasingly tough a nut the Lions are to crack at Emirates Airline Park, the same turf on which Francois Pienaar and company nominally won a virgin southern hemisphere first-class competition of the amateur era, the Super 10, in 1993 by pipping Auckland 20-17 in the showpiece.

    In truth, the Lions have struggled to produce consistently polished showings in either the quarter-final (where they left it so late to quell the Sharks 23-21) or the semi, which saw the Hurricanes roar into a disturbing 22-3 lead by the half-hour mark.

    But therein also lies the secret of their generally triumphant habit over the course of two seasons: the ever-rising degree of maturity and fortitude that helps them to recover from mid-match adversity and tactical/organisational error to turn things sweetly in their favour.

    They were almost absurdly wild, woolly, error-prone and extravagant in their own territory during much of the first period against the ‘Canes … just about the last opponents you want to run that risk against, really.

    But even before half-time “oranges”, Jaco Kriel’s troops also began to get their act spiritedly together, suddenly remembering that a bit of no-frills collective industry and mauling endeavour can be a ticket to success as much as the fancier stuff.

    Loosehead prop Jacques van Rooyen’s barrelling charge over the line in the 39th minute would have done wonders in repairing belief in the broader ranks.

    And come the second half, the Lions were little short of awesome, as they rumbled onto the front foot against tiring foes and produced a near-avalanche of five further tries.

    Just by winning those memorable 40 minutes 34-7 in scoreboard terms, they sent out an automatic message to the Crusaders of how difficult they will be to subdue in the final, when they will surely also redouble their efforts to produce a more complete performance.

    The Lions have now won three home knockout-phase matches in a row against New Zealand foes, if you throw in last year’s 42-25 victory over the very Crusaders (extra cause for psychological satisfaction?) in a quarter-final, and then 42-30 semis dismantling of the Highlanders.

    That trophy truly does shine so seductively now in front of the Lions’ noses …

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  lions crusaders super rugby rugby

    What To Read Next

    Read News24’s Comments Policy

    Live Video Streaming
    Video Highlights
    Sport Talk


    Saturday, 17 February 2018
    • Stormers v Jaguares, Cape Town 15:05
    • Lions v Sharks, Emirates Airlines Park 17:15
    Friday, 23 February 2018
    • Highlanders v Blues, Forsyth Barr Stadium 08:35
    • Rebels v Reds, AAMI Park 10:45
    Saturday, 24 February 2018
    • Sunwolves v Brumbies, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium 06:15
    • Crusaders v Chiefs, AMI Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Stormers, Allianz Stadium 10:45
    • Lions v Jaguares, Emirates Airlines Park 15:05
    • Bulls v Hurricanes, Loftus Versfeld 17:15


    05 August 2017
    29 July 2017
    22 July 2017
    21 July 2017
    15 July 2017
    14 July 2017
    08 July 2017
    07 July 2017
    01 July 2017
    30 June 2017
    09 June 2017
    03 June 2017
    02 June 2017
    28 May 2017
    27 May 2017
    26 May 2017
    21 May 2017
    20 May 2017
    19 May 2017
    13 May 2017
    12 May 2017
    06 May 2017
    05 May 2017
    30 April 2017
    29 April 2017
    28 April 2017
    22 April 2017
    21 April 2017
    15 April 2017
    14 April 2017
    09 April 2017
    08 April 2017
    07 April 2017
    02 April 2017
    01 April 2017
    31 March 2017
    25 March 2017
    24 March 2017
    18 March 2017
    17 March 2017
    11 March 2017
    10 March 2017
    04 March 2017
    03 March 2017
    02 March 2017
    25 February 2017
    24 February 2017
    23 February 2017
    06 August 2016
    30 July 2016
    23 July 2016
    22 July 2016
    16 July 2016
    15 July 2016
    09 July 2016
    08 July 2016
    02 July 2016
    01 July 2016
    29 May 2016
    28 May 2016
    27 May 2016
    21 May 2016
    20 May 2016
    14 May 2016
    13 May 2016
    07 May 2016
    06 May 2016
    30 April 2016
    29 April 2016
    24 April 2016
    23 April 2016
    22 April 2016
    16 April 2016
    15 April 2016
    09 April 2016
    08 April 2016
    03 April 2016
    02 April 2016
    01 April 2016
    27 March 2016
    26 March 2016
    25 March 2016
    19 March 2016
    18 March 2016
    12 March 2016
    11 March 2016
    05 March 2016
    04 March 2016
    27 February 2016
    26 February 2016


    Rank Team P W Pts

    Opinion Poll

    The 2017 Super Rugby tournament has reached its quarter-final stage. When all is said and done, who emerges victorious?

    The ultimate Super Rugby quiz!

    There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.