History against Lions

No Super Rugby team has ever won a final after traversing the Indian Ocean, and no South African side has ever won a playoff match in New Zealand, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Johan Ackermann’s Lions team has already made history. Their participation in the quarter-final against the Crusaders marked their first appearance in a Super Rugby playoff. Their win in that fixture, and in the semi-final against the Highlanders, were also historic firsts.

Next Saturday, the Lions will face the Hurricanes in Wellington in the Super Rugby final. They will have an opportunity to secure their first-ever Super Rugby title. The same could be said for the Hurricanes, the one New Zealand side that is yet to win the tournament.

No matter what transpires at the Cake Tin next Saturday, Super Rugby will have a first-time winner. The smart money, however, is on the Hurricanes securing their inaugural title.

This statement is based on the history of the tournament. No Super Rugby team has ever won a final after traversing the Indian Ocean. No South African side has ever won a qualifier, semi-final or final in New Zealand.

Since the inception of the tournament in 1996, South African teams have featured in 10 playoff games in New Zealand. On each of those 10 occasions, the South African teams have lost. The Crusaders edged the Sharks 36-32 in Christchurch in their 1998 semi-final. That remains the one and only time that a South African side has got within 10 points of their Kiwi hosts in a playoff match.

The Sharks have represented South Africa in two finals in this time frame. The Blues thrashed the Sharks 45-21 in 1996. The Chiefs smashed the Sharks 37-6 in the 2012 decider. No South African side has qualified for a Super Rugby decider since that match in Hamilton four years ago.

The odds are certainly against the Lions class of 2016 succeeding where the two Sharks sides of yesteryear have failed. Some might see the Lions’ previous two wins against Kiwi opposition as a positive. However, those two wins were obtained on South African soil, and the chances of a South African team beating three Kiwi sides in succession are slim.

That said, the opportunity remains. The Lions are 80 minutes away from a first Super Rugby title. A win for the Lions would bring an end to South Africa’s rotten run in playoffs in New Zealand. It would also mark a first Super Rugby title success for this country since the Bulls won the 14-team tournament in 2010.

Looking ahead to this weekend's all-important match, the Lions would do well to put the memory of their most recent meeting with the Hurricanes out of their minds. The Kiwi side thumped the Lions 50-17 at Ellis Park.

The Hurricanes finished the 2016 conference stage at the top of the overall log. They thrashed the Sharks 41-0 in the quarter-final, and were dominant in their 25-9 win against the Chiefs in the semi-final. The Lions will need to produce something special in the decider to deny the Hurricanes a long-awaited title triumph.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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Jon Cardinelli