CRAIG LEWIS looks at three key areas for the Lions to focus on in order to stand any chance of causing an upset in Saturday’s final against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Match an All Blacks-laden pack
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen perhaps said it best when he suggested this week that the Crusaders boast the Rolls-Royce of packs. With forwards such as Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock, Matt Todd and Kieran Read, it’s no wonder the Crusaders have made a habit of bullying their opponents up front. Yet in recent weeks, the Lions have begun to display their own bit of mongrel up front. Besides remaining the top-ranked team in terms of lineout success this season (90.6%), the Lions’ rolling maul has become one of their most dangerous weapons. Make no mistake, the Lions will be up for the physical challenge on Saturday, and stopping the Crusaders from rumbling ominously onto the front foot will be key to the cause of the Johannesburg-based side.
Front up on defence
Over the course of the season, the Crusaders have scored 86 tries – just one less than the Lions. However, the Saders have defied the perception that New Zealand sides are all about running the ball from every part of the field. The defending champs have racked up a whopping try tally based largely on the precision and patience of their relentless phase play and physical ball-carriers. The Lions have struggled with some inconsistency on defence this season (82.2% tackles won), and there is no doubt that the Crusaders will look to stretch them out wide by taking the ball to the edges with pace. Classy flyhalf Richie Mo’unga and ever-reliable inside centre Ryan Crotty have run the Crusaders attack with aplomb, and the Lions will need to find a way to nullify their influence, and ensure the hosts are halted at the gainline.
Execute with precision on attack
Following the Hurricanes’ semi-final loss in Christchurch last Saturday, coach Chris Boyd rated the Crusaders as ‘20 points better than any other side’. It was a statement made after the Saders had suffocated the life out of the Hurricanes with a powerful defence that relies heavily on high-paced linespeed. The Lions must be prepared to face this defensive wall on Saturday, and to have the patience to wear it down through a direct, physical approach. If the Lions lose patience and begin to run the ball from the wrong areas of the field, they are sure to be severely punished. However, if they can protect possession and maintain accuracy with ball in hand, while taking every opportunity that comes their way, they should be capable of at least producing a competitive performance.
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