WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The Canterbury Crusaders are wary of the Lions' "momentum-changing" maul ahead of Saturday's Super Rugby final, flanker Matt Todd has said.
The Lions used their maul with aplomb in their comeback semi-final win over the New South Wales Waratahs at Ellis Park, with hooker Malcolm Marx grabbing a brace of tries from it. Todd said the champion Crusaders, who saw off the Wellington Hurricanes 30-12 in their semi-final, would be busy during the week working out ways to counter the Lions' maul.
"It's a real momentum changer for them - not just with tries but also getting them field position when they were under the pump a little bit at the start of that game," Todd told New Zealand media on Monday. "When a team has a big strength, as they do in that area, you have to put some time into it. (Forwards coach) Jase Ryan will come up with a good plan for us there."
Saturday's match will be a repeat of last year's final which saw the Crusaders win their record-extending eighth championship with a 25-17 triumph in Johannesburg. The crucial difference this year is that the Crusaders have hosting rights after finishing the regular season top of the standings.
The Crusaders are virtually impregnable at their Christchurch stronghold, and most rugby pundits expect the Lions to suffer a third successive defeat in the final, having also lost the 2016 final to the Wellington Hurricanes.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin admitted it would take something special to upset the rampaging Crusaders in their backyard and claim a first championship for the Johannesburg team. "I believe in miracles and this team has proven it. So anything can happen," he said. "The Crusaders are the favourites - they are a very good team - but it is still 80 minutes between four white lines so it will be interesting."
The Lions face an exhausting long-haul flight to Christchurch where they can expect to find a fresher Crusaders side spared the full rigours of the training track. "We have to make sure we keep filling up those energy levels," said Crusaders coach Scott Robertson. "We have had a big four weeks at home, and made a lot of tackles against those teams. Defence has been a huge part of it, and it takes a lot of out of you. "We have got to have everything right for Saturday night."