THE MONEY MAN is putting R3,000 on the Lions to beat the Crusaders in their Super Rugby quarter-final at Ellis Park.
Some of you may think I've lost my mind, but here are five reasons why the Lions will win with ease against the Crusaders.
1. The Lions had been the best team in the tournament before last week's loss, which only happened because they fielded a second-string team against the Jaguares. Johan Ackermann was in a 'damned if you do and damned if you don't' situation. The same journalists who criticised him for not selecting his strongest available XV would have nailed him for picking his key men if any of them had picked up an injury or illness in Argentina. My personal view is that if you have something to play for, you select the best side to get the job done, but with rumours of the Lions' touring players returning with various ailments, Ackermann may turn out to be a tactical genius.
2. This will surprise many of you – the Lions have had a tougher schedule than the Crusaders. Out of a schedule difficulty – 18 being the most difficult and one the easiest (my own formula) – the Lions have a rating of 10.13 and the Crusaders 9.93. Although it's not much of a difference, there's a myth in rugby circles that the Crusaders have had a more difficult schedule because they compete in the New Zealand conference. The fact remains that the Lions played against Kiwi opposition five times and won twice. The Crusaders played six matches against their countrymen and lost four of those. So the Lions actually have a better winning percentage against New Zealand sides than the Crusaders.
3. The only bad game the Lions played this year was against the Hurricanes when they lost 50-17 at home. But every team can be forgiven one bad game. If memory serves me correctly, just about everything went right for the Canes that day. But despite the bump in the road, the Lions secured resounding victories after that. They hammered the Sharks home and away, destroyed the Bulls at Loftus, beat the Stormers and stunned the Chiefs away. Without a doubt, the Lions have played the most attractive rugby in the competition.
4. Don't over-analyse or attach too much value to the Crusaders' victory at Ellis Park earlier in the season. This Lions team learned their lesson from that result and went on to win eight of their remaining 10 games. This is a well-coached side brimming with confidence. They have a wonderful team chemistry, play for each other and will leave nothing on the field when the final whistle blows.
5. The Lions are well rested because they have not travelled in two weeks. Ellis Park is a fortress and not an easy place to win. It should be a packed stadium and 50,000 people will only add to what should be a tremendous atmosphere. I would not be surprised to see the Crusaders torn to pieces in this game.
I will be putting down R2,000 on the Lions to claim an outright win. The bet pays R1,700 plus my stake back. Additionally, I'm placing a R1,000 bet on the Lions to win by 10 or more points. If they do, I'll win R2,800 and my stake back.
PS. I'm not going to touch the Hurricanes vs Sharks game. This is one I'm going to enjoy with a cup of early morning coffee while praying for a Sharks miracle.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images