The 2018 Super Rugby season reaches its crescendo with the unstoppable Crusaders hosting the ever-dangerous Lions in a rematch of last year’s Super Rugby final.
History: Played 22: Crusaders 17 V Lions 5.
Last meeting: April 1, 2018: Crusaders 14 d Lions 8 at Emirates Airlines Park.
Final Thoughts: It’s a repeat of the 2017 Super Rugby final, but this time the Crusaders have hometown advantage against the Lions.
The Crusaders downed the table-topping Lions 25-17 in Johannesburg in last year’s decider, with the Lions bravely staging a late fight-back from 22 points down after having Kwagga Smith sent off just before halftime.
But the Crusaders have been a class above this year, streeting the field with a 14-2 regular-season record then brushing aside the Sharks (40-10) and Hurricanes (30-12) in the finals. The are currently on a 14-game winning streak.
The Lions have slipped on recent seasons’ standards in 2018 – going 9-7 in the regular season – but appear to be hitting form at the right time, powering past the Jaguares (40-23) and Waratahs (44-26) in home finals.
Brilliant winger Aphiwe Dyanti has been declared fit after limping off at halftime against the Waratahs (having scored an incredible 80-metre try), while young flanker will return after missing last week’s semi. The Lions’ all-out attacking style – with Kwagga Smith, Elton Jantjies and their dazzling wingers the trump cards – appears to be the only tactic capable of unsettling the Crusaders’ brick-wall defence.
But the Crusaders have injury concerns heading into the final. Jordan Taufua is out with a broken arm, while Ryan Crotty is under an injury cloud, and there are further concerns among the team’s reserve front-rower ranks. However, no side has greater depth or versatility than the Crusaders.
The Crusaders have won 14 of their last 16 against the Lions, following up last year’s victory in the final with a tense 14-8 victory at the same venue in Round 7.
The Crusaders also boast an imposing 9-1 record at home against the Lions, whose only victory in Christchurch came back in 2001. The Crusaders have won 18 straight games at AMI Stadium and have won 20 home finals matches in a row. They are 8-4 in Super Rugby finals (4-0 in Christchurch).
The Lions are just 3-5 on the road this season and are aiming to avoid becoming the first team to lose three successive Super Rugby finals, having also gone down to the Hurricanes 20-3 in Wellington in 2016.
Unfortunately for the South African heavyweights, their chances of sidestepping an unwanted piece of history look remote up against a Crusaders juggernaut that surely ranks as one of the best team’s in Super Rugby history.