What we learned from the Super Rugby final, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Crusaders nullified Lions’ strengths
At the start of Saturday’s final, the broadcasters in New Zealand highlighted the fact that the Lions had scored a whopping 21 tries from driving mauls this season. With that in mind, the Crusaders made a massive statement when they pushed the Lions’ first lineout drive backwards with ferocious intent. It was clearly a weapon of the Lions that the Crusaders had done their homework on, and the visitors were simply never able to get their maul working. In previous games, the Lions also relied heavily on the work of someone like Malcolm Marx at the breakdown, and yet his influence in this area was nullified by the accuracy and quality of the Crusaders’ cleans at the breakdown. This defensive work was a hallmark of the Crusaders’ memorable victory in the final.
Emotional Whiteley summed up Lions’ heartbreak
When conducting a post-match interview immediately after the Lions’ disappointing defeat on Saturday, captain Warren Whiteley struggled to keep his emotions in check. It was testimony to the immense effort produced by the Lions, and yet, try as they might, the Johannesburg-based side could not match the power and precision of the Crusaders. The end result was a third successive loss for the Lions in a Super Rugby final. In some ways, it is an end of an era as the Lions get set to bid farewell to some key personnel who have been part of their journey from Super Rugby relegation to three finals in five years. Unfortunately, they have just been unable to take that final step to title honours.
Lions lacked patience and accurate decision-making
Although the Lions enjoyed 56% of possession in Saturday’s final, it’s revealing that they conceded as many as 13 turnovers. It was an indication of their inability to protect possession and wear the Crusaders down through patient build-up play. The Lions did start well in Christchurch, but they failed to gain much reward early on, while there was then some strange decision-making that saw the ball being kicked away – with one poor clearance leading directly to David Havili’s crucial try. Unfortunately, Elton Jantjies again battled to impose himself in a high-pressure match away from home, with his defence, positional play and decision-making letting him down. However, he can’t be seen as the sole scapegoat, with the Lions simply failing to play the high-percentage rugby that was required to cause an upset.
Dyantyi should have started
At the start of last week, the Lions declared that star wing Aphiwe Dyantyi had recovered from a hamstring strain and would be available for the final. It therefore seemed a particularly strange decision when he was ultimately named on the bench. Although there may have still been some concern over the injury, he made an immediate impact when he came on to the field in the second half, and his injection of pace highlighted what the Lions had missed at times against the Crusaders. Of course, Courtnall Skosan was a more than capable replacement, but there was no doubt that the Lions could have been well-served with Dyantyi’s X factor from the start of the tense title decider.
Combrinck deserves Springbok recall
In recent weeks, the Boks have lost both S’bu Nkosi and Warrick Gelant to injury. These are two big blows ahead of the Rugby Championship, but it has at least been encouraging to see Ruan Combrink rediscovering some timely form of late. The powerful wing was one of the Lions’ few standout players in the final, with his superb break that started with a neat show-and-go proving to be an early highlight against the Crusaders. In all, Combrinck made 68m, nine carries and beat six defenders. There is little doubt that Combrinck and his booming boot would be a good addition to the Springbok set-up.
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