Five lessons from the past weekend's Super Rugby semi-finals, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Lions have the game to win Super Rugby final
The Lions have continued to exceed all expectations this season. Coming off the back of an emphatic quarter-final win over the Crusaders last weekend, the Lions then humbled the defending champion Highlanders on Saturday. While the Lions have impressed all season with their ambitious ball-in-hand style of play, their defence was outstanding against the Saders, while on Saturday they dismantled the Highlanders at scrum time. It again illustrates the evolution of the Lions' all-round game, and on the basis of their last two playoff performances, there's no reason to believe it can't reap rewards in the form of a historic Super Rugby title.
Lions' scrum needs to fire against Hurricanes
The Lions' scrum has been one of their unsung strengths all season, with the likes of Dylan Smith, Malcolm Marx and Julian Redelinghuys performing brilliantly up front. The backup players have also made an impressive impact, and it's no surprise that the Lions' scrum success has sat at a commendable 91%. On Saturday, they enjoyed utter ascendancy over the Highlanders at scrum time, winning a couple of important penalties at this set piece. The Canes had some scrumming struggles against the Chiefs in their semi-final, but they have generally enjoyed good success at this set piece during the season. It's a definite area that could be decisive in Saturday's final, and it will be crucial for the Lions' scrum to fire once again if they are to come out on top.
Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies to take great form into Rugby Championship
The duo once again played instrumental roles as the Lions utterly outplayed the Highlanders. De Klerk's speed of service and strong kicking performance fulfilled all the essential roles of an influential halfback, while Jantjies produced a superb Man of the Match display. Not only did he run the game with aplomb, but his use of the attaching kick to create chances was sublime. Such individual performances would have especially pleased Allister Coetzee ahead of the Rugby Championship, with the two sure to continue their halfback combination at Test level.
Canes peaked at timely stage
Heading into the final weekend of conference action, the Canes had performed in fits and starts during the course of the regular season, and it didn't appear as if they were particularly strong title contenders. They also came into their final conference clash lying fourth in the New Zealand conference. Yet, in a thrilling end to proceedings, they produced an emphatic all-round performance to crush the Crusaders and suddenly surge to the top of the Kiwi standings. It enabled them to host a quarter-final against the Sharks last weekend, where they again produced a well-balanced display in wet weather conditions to hammer the Durban-based side 41-0. Riding a wave of confidence, they were then far too strong for the Chiefs in Wellington on Saturday, with their clinical execution on attack and abrasive defence laying the platform for a comprehensive 25-9 victory. With home-ground advantage in the final and plenty of momentum on their side, they should be regarded as favourites to win the Super Rugby title this weekend.
Barrett stakes claim for All Blacks No 10 jersey
Aaron Cruden started at flyhalf at the outset of the All Blacks' June Test series against Wales, but an injury then provided a rare opportunity for Barrett to step in and stake his claim for the No 10 jersey. The mercurial pivot performed impressively, but it's really his efforts for the Canes in recent weeks that has surely seen him establish himself as New Zealand's first-choice flyhalf. On Saturday, he made 102m, executed 12 kicks, completed seven tackles and contributed 15 points (missing just one kick at goal) to once again exhibit his class.
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