The Hurricanes and Lions square off in the 2016 Super Rugby Final this Saturday morning at the Westpac Stadium.
South Africa’s hopes of Super Rugby glory rest in the hands of a Lions squad that will be hellbent on bringing the coveted trophy back to Johannesburg. Standing in Johan Ackermann’s team’s way are a magnificent Hurricanes squad and arguably the world’s best fly-half.
So can the Lions continue to upset the odds by claiming victory at the ‘Cake Tin’ or will the Hurricanes finally end their Super Rugby trophy drought?
Hurricanes v Lions | Saturday 6 July | Westpac Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Hurricanes 37/100 | Draw 25/1 | Lions 21/10
Hurricanes (-7.5) 9/10 | Lions (+7.5) 9/10
To Lift Cup
Hurricanes 7/20 | Lions 2/1
The Hurricanes have really exceeded expectations this year. Having lost their talismanic centre pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, I thought the ‘Canes would struggle to make the semi-finals let alone the final. How wrong I was.
Chris Boyd’s men got their campaign off to the worst possible start going down by 42 points to the Brumbies in the opening round. They then went down by a point to the Highlanders in the second round. At this point, It seemed my prophecy about the 'Canes struggling without their two star men would come true .
The Hurricanes suddenly turned things around though winning five games on the trot before going down to the Chiefs in a pulsating affair at the Westpac Stadium. They bounced back from that loss with a 33 point away victory over the Lions. They would suffer their last defeat of the tournament the following week going down to the Sharks by 17 points at Kings Park.
Key to the Hurricanes' run to the final has been dynamic halfback pairing TJ Perenara and Beuaden Barrett. The two All Blacks have been in brilliant form dictating play for the Hurricanes. The duo has the ability to up the tempo of a match in the blink of an eye.
The ‘Canes front row have been also been in great form - especially over the past few weeks. The rise to prominence of prop Loni Uhlia and young gun Ricky Riccitelli have given the ‘Canes something extra up top.
While Uhlia is almost guaranteed a starting berth this week, Riccitelli’s role in the matchday 23 will be dependent on the fitness of Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles. The All Black did a nasty to his rib during the Hurricanes’ quarter-final clash against the Sharks. He missed last week’s quarter-final clash with the Chiefs but it looks like he will be fit enough to start this weekend.
Other than Coles, Chris Boyd has no injuries to contend with so it should be a full strength 'Canes side that takes to the field this Saturday.
Flirting with bankruptcy and relegated from Super Rugby. This was the scenario the Lions were facing in 2012. Fast forward four years and the men from Johannesburg are on the cusp of one of the greatest achievements in the history of South African rugby.
Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and the rest of the Lions' backroom staff have pulled off a near miracle turning these Lions players into the most competitive South African side in Super Rugby.
Key to the Lions' epic run to the 2016 Super Rugby Final has been the cohesion in the squad. This is a side that cherishes every minute that they get to play the game. They also know how fickle the oval-balled game can be, having experienced the lows of Super Rugby relegation and the highs of Currie Cup glory.
A man who knows more about the ups and downs of rugby than any other player in the country is Elton Jantjies. This is a man who went from being touted as being South Africa’s kingpin fly-half to be deemed surplus to requirements in less than 16 months.
Jantjies has made a remarkable rise from the graveyard of rugby careers. The Lion has only got better and better with each passing week since making a return from Japan. His display in last week’s semi-final must have surely secured him the Springbok number 10 jumper.
Janjties and halfback partner, Faf de Klerk, are going to have to be at their best again this weekend as they are coming up against a brilliant opposition pairing. The two Lions men will have to bring their kicking A games as well as defend like Trojans.
While Janjties and de Klerk will be pivotal to the Lions getting the ascendancy in the backline, the key man for me will be Rohan Janse van Rensburg. The Tuks old boy has really caught the eye this season with his robust running and brilliant reading of the game. The manner in which he kept All Black Malakai Feikitoa quite last week was brilliant. He has another big test on his hands this week as he is squaring off against the impressive Willis Halaholo.
The Lion's front row will also have a huge role to play at the Westpac Stadium. Redlinghuis, Marx and young Dylan Smith have been sensational in recent weeks tearing a seasoned Crusaders front row apart in the quarters and then decimating the Highlanders last week. With poor conditions being predicted for the final, the trio will once again play an integral role.
Johan Ackermann could receive a bit of a boost this week with injured skipper Warren Whiteley having been included in the touring party. If Whiteley fails to prove his fitness, Ackermann will be able to call on his son, Ruan, who had a blinder against the Highlanders last week.
The Stats That Matter
Finals rugby is generally all about the goal kickers and while both of these teams love running the ball, the abject weather conditions being forecast for Saturday may well turn this into the battle of the boot. It would be prudent to take a look at the two flyhalves kicking stats with the above in mind.
Elton Janjties currently boasts a 73.7% goal kicking ratio having kicked 70 out of his 95 goals, this term. His opposite number has been slightly less effective kicking 71 out of 102 kicks, which equates to a 69.6% conversion rate.
The Hurricanes have been brilliant on defence this season. The hosts for Saturday’s final haven’t conceded a try in three hours and 41 minutes of play.
While the Lions haven’t been as watertight on defence, they have been more effective on attack than their opponents, running in 71 tries in the round robin phase and a further 10 tries during the knockout phase. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, ran in 61 tries during the conference stage of the tournament and ran in a further 8 in the knockout phase.
Last Five Head To Head Results
2016 Lions 17-50 Hurricanes (Lions Home)
2015 Lions 8-22 Hurricanes (Lions Home)
2012 Lions 28-30 Hurricanes (Lions Home)
2011 Hurricanes 38-27 Lions (Hurricanes Home)
2010 Hurricanes 33-18 Lions (Hurricanes Home)
Verdict: Lions (+7.5) 9/10
This game could go either way. A bounce of the ball or a bit of individual brilliance is likely to decide it. The smart move here is to back the Lions on a rather kind (+7.5) handicap at 9/10.