What we learned from the semi-finals of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
The Lions have championship qualities
Saturday’s semi-final at Ellis Park had it all in terms of high-octane action, stunning tries, massive tackles and a rousing fightback. At the end of it all, though, it was the Lions who proved beyond doubt that they are a team filled with the quality and character to go on to win this year’s Super Rugby title. Despite falling 22-3 behind, the Lions ultimately outscored the Hurricanes 41-7 in the final 50 minutes of the match. When one considers that New Zealand teams very rarely sacrifice such a healthy advantage, the manner in which the Lions never lost belief in their ability to battle back speaks volumes about the championship qualities of this side.
Elton Jantjies answered his critics
The warning signs seemed to be going off once again during the early stages of Saturday’s semi-final at Ellis Park, with the Hurricanes’ defence succeeding in rattling Lions halfbacks Ross Cronjé and Elton Jantjies. For the latter, it appeared as if doubts over his big-match temperament might arise once again. Yet, instead of wilting under the pressure, Jantjies grew in stature as the game went on, and his well-taken try late in the game effectively served to well and truly silence his critics who were out in full force last week. Jantjies was also far more assured with his goal-kicking, and will now have another golden opportunity this Saturday to marshal the Lions to a first-ever Super Rugby title.
The Lions made the most of home-ground advantage
The Lions’ incredible comeback on Saturday was not only aided by the altitude factor, but also the support of their vociferous home fans. Despite the fact that the Hurricanes opened up a 19-point advantage early on, the Lions started with a clean slate in the second stanza, undoubtedly aware that they could lift the intensity for the final 40 minutes, while the Canes would tire after travelling to the highveld. Perhaps more significantly, though, it was clear that the Lions fed off the support of their home fans, with Johan Ackermann acknowledging afterwards that the players had been buoyed by the energy of the vocal crowd.
Lions will need to be wary of Crusaders’ defence
According to the All Out Rugby stats, the Crusaders were forced to make as many as 211 tackles, compared to just 79 from the Chiefs in Saturday’s first semi-final. Particularly, for the better part of the first half, the Crusaders had hardly any ball, and yet they scrambled on defence and tackled like men possessed. After repeatedly repelling the Chiefs’ attacking efforts, they then pounced on any opportunities that came their way, to ultimately clinch a comfortable victory. It should have served as a timely lesson for the Lions, who need to remain patient on attack, while finding different ways to penetrate the Crusaders’ incredible defence.
Super Rugby has delivered the perfect final
Despite whatever faults the Super Rugby format may have, the fact remains that the two best teams have managed to make their way to the final. In many ways, it would have been a complete injustice if the Sharks had managed to knock the Lions out at the quarter-final stage, considering the consistency with which the Johannesburg-based side has performed all season. There would have also been some nervy moments for the Crusaders when they led by only four points at half-time in Saturday’s semi-final against the Chiefs. However, both teams have ultimately demonstrated their enduring class, while overcoming any playoff nerves to progress to what will be a dream final at Ellis Park.
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