DURBAN – Many would say that the Lions landed in Christchurch last night on a wing and a prayer, but if divine intervention does not come to the aid of the South African team, can earthly endeavour topple the Goliath that is the Crusaders?
It can be done.
Perhaps Swys de Bruin should phone Vinny Jones and ask him how Wimbledon’s “Crazy Gang” beat Liverpool’s “Culture Club” in the 1988 FA Cup final.
Closer to home, Ian McIntosh could be tapped on the secret of how Natal pulled off the biggest upset in Currie Cup history when they beat the Bulls in the 1990 final at Loftus Versfeld.
Moving even closer to Johannesburg, the tale of how the Bulls won their first Super 12 title in 2007 is worth the telling ... beginning with the photocopies of the Super 12 trophy that were plastered all over Bulls HQ from round one, so the players could visualise what they were going to hold in their hands one triumphant campaign later.
The common denominator in all upsets is the concept of not just believing that you can do it but taking the psyche a step further and knowing it is going to happen.
Heyneke Meyer put it thus: Finalists believe; Champions know.
De Bruin has already ticked one psychological box when in a telling understatement he said: “We are in the final so we must have a chance ...”
Of course they have, which is why the Kiwis have been wailing about how unjust it would be if the Lions did miraculously win given that the Crusaders were runaway table toppers and the humble Lions won half of their pool games yet still have a chance of winning the title.
The New Zealanders are quite right. Super Rugby long ago lost the plot regarding how teams qualify for the play-offs. They should raise it with SANZAAR.
And while they are at it, perhaps a word on the unfairness of SA teams doing double the overseas travel of their Aussie and Kiwi counterparts.
But back to the Lions and that chance they have.
To put it succinctly, the Lions have to play a perfect game comprising all the best bits from their campaign and without the errors, which is the even tougher bit.
All the pieces of the puzzle have to fit. They have to start brightly and ideally lead at half time because one thing is guaranteed, the Crusaders save their best for the last quarter when their superior skills take their toll on the defence and they run in try after try.
If the Lions are substantially behind around the 55-minute mark, it could get ugly.
So having eliminated the slow start that has dogged their recent games, the Lions have got to achieve near perfection in the basics, notably the set pieces.
Easier said than done in the scrums given the gnarled veterans in the Crusaders front row, but hardly impossible considering how well the Lions have been scrumming, with Ruan Dreyer in the form of his life.
The lineouts are an area where the Lions will fancy their chances of establishing a beachhead.
The Crusaders have creaked in this department at times and in Franco Mostert the Lions have the competition’s most successful jumper this year - he has taken 98 throws, including 14 steals, which is way clear of the second best jumper, Guido Petti Pagadizaval of the Jaguares (72).
Interestingly, the Crusaders do not have a man in the top ten of lineouts won. Also, Malcolm Marx is the competition's best lineout thrower, achieving a success rate of 90 %.
So the Lions pack has to play well. Everybody knows that to match or beat New Zealand teams you have to match them physically up front.
That was the key to the relative success of the British and Irish Lions against the All Blacks last year.
Defence hardly needs to be mentioned - of course the dam walls must be watertight against the red-and-black floods. The Crusaders after all have scored 86 tries, the second most this year.
The most tries? The Lions funnily enough, with 87. So there is indeed a chance...
In short, every Lions player has to have the game of his life. There can be no blemishes. No yellow cards, no scrum penalties, no miscued or charged down kicks from 9, 10 and 15, no glaring missed tackles, no butchered try opportunities…
And it has to be a Perfect Storm ... an error-free game played with a devil-may-care attitude. De Bruin will recall the Sharks’ memorable victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch in 2014.
It was all the more remarkable because it was done with 14 men for most of the match. When Jean Deysel was red carded, the Sharks players threw caution to the wind and played like madmen.
The Lions must do the same. It is a fine line but with risk comes reward.@MikeGreenaway67