The Crusaders and the Lions meet at Ellis Park on Saturday in a clash between the two form sides of 2017.
By dispatching the Chiefs and the Hurricanes respectively last weekend, there is no doubt that the winner on Saturday will have earned the right to be called the best club side in the world.
Here are five reasons why that team will be the Crusaders:
Their defence is playing at another level
Against any other side in the compeition, the Chiefs would have scored 50 points last weekend in the semifinal. Against the Crusaders they scored just 13 (with seven of those coming long after the game had been decided).
The Crusaders barely saw the ball in that game as the Chiefs dominated in both territory and possession. More than that, the Hamilton side had line break after line break that was snuffed out by the Crusaders immaculate covering defence.
We know the Crusaders can be ruthless in attack – we have seen that all season – but it their ability to stop the other team scoring that gives them the edge.
Scott Robertson is their coach
Scott Robertson may not have been the obvious choice for the Crusaders coaching gig when Todd Blackadder upped sticks and moved to Bath in the English Premiership after last season. Robertson was a man with no Super Rugby coaching experience, yet he has led the Crusaders to the Super Rugby Final. Whats more, this is the place where he is known to excel.
Robertson won three national titles with Canterbury between 2013 and 2016. He also won the Under-20 World Championships in 2015 with New Zealand.
Winning championships is just what Robinson does and he has a chance to add to his haul with the biggest prize yet on Saturday.
They are a better version of the Jaguares
This may sound like a bizarre reason for the Crusaders to win but stick with me here.
The Lions rolled through their fixture list in 2017, racking up win after win and putting huge point totals on most of their opponents. The one team to cause them problems was the Jaguares who beat the Lions in Argentina and ran them very close in Johannesburg.
Many of the New Zealand sides rely on their backs to do their damage. The Crusaders are not built that way. They are built like a bigger, stronger, and more disciplined version of that same Jaguares side that gave the Lions fits twice this season.
They have 10 All Blacks in their forward pack and a reputation of having one of the best set pieces in the competition. Their forwards won the quarterfinal battle against the Highlanders – in a torrential downpour – with almost no help from the back line. this fact sets them up nicely for this one.
They appear to be at full strength
For the Crusaders to be at their best they need to have all their pieces available. This deep into a season that would seem unlikely, especially when that season included so many Crusaders players playing additional games against the touring British and Irish Lions.
The two big worries are Owen Franks and Kieran Read. Franks had a long term Achilles injury flare up – something that can likely be managed with treatment – while Read hurt his knee in the last few minutes against the Chiefs.
It may be that come match time neither is 100% healthy, but both are expected to play and knowing how rugby players treat these things they will both play until they are dragged/carried off of the pitch.
The Crusaders are immaculately conditioned
Finals rugby can be a slog.
Sure, there are only three rounds of playoff style games to crown a champion, but the pressure of those games both physically and mentally can quickly take its toll.
This is especially true in New Zealand – and in Christchurch in particular – where the realization that rugby is a winter sport can happen quickly. The Crusaders may have played two home games, but both (and especially the first) were played on a mess of a pitch that quickly drained their energy.
The Crusaders though are perhaps the best-conditioned team in the competition. Their ability to keep playing until the final siren helped them win at least one match in 2017. That level of fitness will be crucial on Saturday.
What do you think? Any other areas they Crusaders have the advantage? Let us know!
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