The Lions, as well as the Crusaders, will have an opportunity to record a historic first in the Super Rugby final at Ellis Park next Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The 2017 Super Rugby season will end with a different name – and possibly a new name – engraved on the trophy. The Hurricanes, of course, surrendered the Super Rugby title when they went down to the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Lions lost 20-3 to the Hurricanes in Wellington in last year's final. However, after finishing the conference stage at the top of the overall standings, and seeing off the Sharks and Hurricanes in the playoffs, they will now host a decider at Ellis Park for the very first time.
The Lions will head into the championship game with a distinct advantage. The Crusaders will be forced to travel to South Africa in the coming days. They will need to adjust to the altitude in the lead-up to the final itself.
The Crusaders will also know that no side has ever travelled across the Indian Ocean and won a final. The Chiefs are the only foreign team that has competed in a decider staged on South African soil. On that occasion (back in 2009), the Bulls thrashed the Chiefs 61-17.
The Crusaders won't want for motivation, though. While they are the most decorated franchise in tournament history (with seven titles), they have not lifted the trophy since 2008.
The Crusaders featured in the 2011 final against the Reds and then in the 2014 final against the Waratahs. Both matches were played in Australia, and both matches ended with an Australian side winning the title. That stat may encourage the Lions.
Victory for the Lions would mark a first Super Rugby title win by South African team since 2010 (the Bulls beat the Stormers in Soweto on that occasion). Johan Ackermann's side could become only the second South African side to win the tournament.
The Crusaders beat the Lions 43-37 during the regular season match played at Ellis Park last year. The Lions were too strong for the Crusaders in the 2016 quarter-final, though, scoring five tries and winning 42-25.
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