What we learned from the semi-finals of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions deserve their place in the final
Last year, the Lions lost just one game on the way to hosting the Super Rugby final. This season has been more of a struggle for the Johannesburg-based side as they endured some injury problems and lost seven games during the regular season. However, at the business end of the competition, the Lions have once again underlined their class as they’ve mixed style with substance to book their place in a third successive final. Of course, the Lions will be up against massive odds when they travel to take on the Crusaders this Saturday, but when one considers that this franchise had been relegated from Super Rugby in 2013, it remains a remarkable achievement to have progressed to a hat-trick of finals.
Kwagga sent out reminder of his ability
When Kwagga Smith is in the mood, there are few players more enjoyable to watch. Fortunately for the Lions, he saved one of his best performances of the season for Saturday’s semi-final. The Lions looked in deep trouble when they fell 14-0 behind against the Waratahs, but then Smith began to increasingly impose himself on the game with some tenacious ball carries and a superb try that seemed to spark the home side back to life. In the end, Smith was credited with 99 run metres and eight tackles in a scintillating Man of the Match performance that illustrated once again that there are few better pound-for-pound flankers in the modern game.
Dyantyi dazzles before injury setback
While Smith may have walked away with the Man of the Match award, Aphiwe Dyantyi was the man who stole the show with one of the tries of the season. Dyantyi demonstrated his full array of skills when he received the ball in his own half, chipped ahead while on the run, before regathering his own kick and then ghosting past Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley to score a vital try for the Lions. It was one of the most memorable moments of the semi-final, although there will be some real concern that the star winger had to prematurely leave the field with an injury. It would be a massive blow for the Lions if Dyantyi was unable to feature in the final, while the Boks will also be anxiously awaiting the injury report.
Crusaders look simply unstoppable
Before Saturday’s semi-final in Christchurch, many pundits suggested that the Hurricanes were the one team that could perhaps overcome the Crusaders at home. Yet the final outcome saw the Saders cruise to a comfortable 30-12 victory. Despite a gallant effort from the Canes early on, they were ultimately no match for an All Blacks-laden Crusaders team that boasts an imperious pack, clinical attack and a suffocating defence. The reigning champs now head into Saturday’s final on a 14-match winning streak, while they have remained unbeaten in 20 playoff games at home. One way or another, it would take a minor miracle for the Lions to prevent the Crusaders from claiming a ninth Super Rugby title this Saturday.
Temptation grows for neutral final venue
Take nothing away from the Crusaders. There is no doubt that the imperious eight-time champs have proven to be the best team in Super Rugby this year, but do they really need to head into this weekend’s decider with an additional advantage? Whichever way you look at it, the Lions face an almost insurmountable task in now travelling from Johannesburg to Christchurch to take on the Crusaders in the title decider. Of course, the Saders did manage to defy the home-ground advantage odds when they beat the Lions in last year’s final at Ellis Park, but one cannot discount how that match was influenced by the red card to Kwagga Smith. One just wonders whether this marathon competition wouldn’t be better served by a final played at a neutral venue that could have been predetermined prior to the season. Imagine if Twickenham had been chosen as the host ground for the final before this year’s competition had kicked off. Wouldn’t this make for a more compelling, evenly-matched affair? Besides this consideration, the only other possibility to even out the odds may be to allow for a week’s break between the semi-final and final, which would at least afford the travelling team some time to recover and acclimatise before kick-off.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images