Cru­saders will be up against it

Coles: I’m pretty sure the Lions can go all the way ... They de­serve home fi­nal

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUZYEN

THE LIONS’ never-give-up at­ti­tude makes them the favourites to win the Su­per Rugby ti­tle on Sat­ur­day, ac­cord­ing to the Hur­ri­canes’ lead­er­ship group.

Coach Chris Boyd and skip­per Dane Coles agree that Jo­han Ack­er­mann’s men will be hard to beat in front of their pas­sion­ate fans this week­end.

The Lions qual­i­fied for their sec­ond suc­ces­sive fi­nal over the week­end when they swept past the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, the Hur­ri­canes – the side that beat them in the fi­nal a year ago, in Welling­ton – in the week­end’s sec­ond semi-fi­nal.

Af­ter a slug­gish start at El­lis Park and go­ing 22-3 down, Ack­er­mann’s men hit back in the sec­ond half with six tries to win 44-29.

A year ago they hardly stood a chance in a wet and windy Welling­ton, los­ing 20-3, but this week­end they will be on fa­mil­iar ground, play­ing in front of what or­gan­is­ers will hope will be a 60 000 sell-out crowd, in good and dry con­di­tions.

And the fact they’re up against a team that has won the com­pe­ti­tion seven times and is ar­guably the best all-round out­fit in Su­per Rugby will mean lit­tle at El­lis Park – a venue where Ack­er­mann’s men have now gone 16 matches un­beaten, since late April last year.

On top of this, the Cru­saders would have had to board a plane in Christchurch yes­ter­day to fly via Auck­land and Syd­ney to ar­rive in Johannesburg to­day.

And, they’ll know no team has crossed the In­dian Ocean to play a Su­per Rugby fi­nal be­fore and won it.

The odds are stacked against Scott Robertson’s men win­ning an eighth ti­tle. “The Lions have got the ad­van­tage of play­ing at home in the fi­nal, and that’s big,” said Boyd af­ter his side’s dra­matic im­plo­sion on Sat­ur­day.

Coles was more vo­cif­er­ous in back­ing the Lions against the Cru­saders.

“The Lions are a qual­ity side and they’ve got great be­lief in their game ... you saw to­day, they’re a side that never gives us. I’m pretty sure they can go all the way. They cer­tainly de­serve a fi­nal at home,” Coles said.

The hooker added that the home crowd, who couldn’t stop chant­ing “Lions, Lions, Lions” dur­ing the game on Sat­ur­day, and the travel fac­tor would count against the vis­i­tors.

“The crowd were pretty quiet in the first half (on Sat­ur­day), but the more the Lions got into the game the more vo­cal they be­came and they cer­tainly helped to get their team over the line,” the 30-yearold said.

“That home sup­port and the fact that the Cru­saders have to travel will play a part.

“That said, the Cru­saders, with all their All Black play­ers, are an ex­pe­ri­enced team and have trav­elled a lot and will do ev­ery­thing they can to have the best chance to win.”

Boyd said that while the Lions have the abil­ity to run teams off their feet with their free-flow­ing at­tack­ing game, it would be their pack that would be the most im­por­tant part of their game against the Cru­saders.

“The guys with the small num­bers on their backs (the for­wards) will de­cide the game,” said the Hur­ri­canes coach.

“The pack that gets the as­cen­dency on Sat­ur­day will win it ... and it’s sure to be a good con­test be­cause both teams have very good packs. De­spite the fact that the Lions play a very ex­pan­sive game and score a lot of tries when it comes down to the real key part of the game, it’ll be the bat­tle of the packs that de­cides it.”

Ack­er­mann said his team’s adapt­abil­ity – as was wit­nessed against the Canes when they adopted a more di­rect style in their sec­ond-half come­back – would again be cru­cial against the Cru­saders.

“You can an­a­lyse them as much as you want to ... we know they’re go­ing to be phys­i­cal, they’re go­ing to be in our faces de­fen­sively ... but it will be our abil­ity to adapt dur­ing the game if our first plan doesn’t work that will be cru­cial in the fi­nal,” said the Lions boss.

PIC­TURE: BACKPAGE P IX

THE COME-BACK BE­GINS: Jacques van Rooyen crashes over the try­line to score the Lions first try against the Hur­ri­canes on Sat­ur­day in their Su­per Rugby semi-fi­nal at El­lis Park.

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