JOHANNESBURG - 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 on Sunday to fly via Auckland and Sydney to arrive in Johannesburg on Monday.
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 (on Saturday), 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-year-old 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.