Come the final whistle on Saturday’s Super Rugby final, a new maiden champion will be crowned. Neither the Hurricanes nor the Lions have ever won the Southern Hemisphere tournament, but the New Zealand hosts have been in this very situation twice before (in 2006 and 2015), but have faltered on the final hurdle both times.
While experience in these Super Rugby finals definitely favours the Hurricanes, failing to clinch the respective titles also mounts the pressure on coach Chris Boyd’s side. All eyes and expectation will be on the home side to finally deliver the goods and deal the killing blow to round off their brilliant season, but if there was ever a ying to the Hurricanes’ yang, it would be the Lions.
While the Hurricanes have had the calibre and team-sheets expected to win Super Rugby throughout numerous seasons, the Lions have the rags-to-riches story which was as unexpected as a prop slotting a match-winning drop goal. The Lions are undoubtedly a great team. They’ve proven that over the past two seasons; but achieving a semi-final, let alone the final itself, has exceeded the expectations placed on them. Their ambitious and winning attitude showcased on tour and at home during the season, and their professionalism in dismantling the Crusaders and Highlanders in the play-offs sent a message to the rugby world that the Lions have what it takes to eliminate the best.
And who exactly is the best? Well, that would be the Hurricanes. While the Lions are the true fairy-tale story of the season, the Hurricanes get the nod as the best team, currently that is. They topped the overall log and defeated the Lions convincingly earlier in the season – a low-point for Johan Ackermann’s side following some consecutively good performances. The Hurricanes are the most well-rounded team, packed full of All Blacks and rising stars, but the Lions are extremely close behind or at least equal in terms of unpredictability, attacking prowess, and defence, and the pressure placed on the Hurricanes should be the equaliser.
There’s one thing that’s for certain: the encounter will be a thrilling match-up inside the stadium otherwise referred to as the Cake Tin. This final also pits the best attack against the best defence in the competition, with the Lions having averaged a competition high 36.4 points and 4.8 tries per game, whilst the Hurricanes have conceded the least average score per game, a lowly 19 points per match so far.
The Wellington battle also sees the two most outstanding flyhalves of the 2016 campaign against each other. Beauden Barrett is easily the natural successor to the All Blacks No. 10 jersey, but he’ll be up against Elton Jantjies, who is playing the best rugby of his career. It’s a head-to-head of two very different players that will set the stage for how the game unfolds.
Which ever angle you look at this final, it’s a competition between the two most deserved sides in the tournament – and while the log-topping Hurricanes will fancy their chances at home, they’ll need to remind themselves that heavy lies the crown, and there are some Lions in Wellington looking to become kings.
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