We have now looked at the Super Rugby Final from several angles. Next up we will look at the three keys to the game. These will be the factors – other than the individual players – that will separate the two sides and see one prevail.
Here are those keys:
How the Crusaders handle the altitude
As a player, you are taught to claim that altitude – and conditions in general – are not to be relied upon as an excuse. Science has proven though that the body thinks differently.
No matter how you look at it, the altitude is going to be a factor here. The match will be played at over 1,700 meters above sea level, conditions the visiting Crusaders are just not used to and that they can’t prepare for on such short notice.
You only have to look at how the Hurricanes wilted in the second half last week at Ellis Park, to see the dramatic effect that playing at altitude when you are not used to it can have. Their pressure defense fell apart in the last 20 minutes as their legs deteriorated, allowing the Lions to roar back and win the game.
The Crusaders like to rely on their big forward pack to set the tone. These are the guys with the most mass and therefore they are the ones who are going to struggle the most in the thin air. Their ability to perform at a high level when running on fumes is a massive key to the game.
Set piece domination will be key
This will be a monumental battle between two packs that each has the ability to dominate if things go their way.
In pretty much any big game the team with the stronger pack on the day wins. The Crusaders have an obscene amount of All Blacks in their pack (nine), while the Lions are hardly short on international players themselves.
The Lions also have one of the top line-out jumpers in Super Rugby in Franco Mostert. The Springbok stole two balls in the opening 20 minutes against the Hurricanes, slowing down that express train.
The battles here are mouthwatering. Seeing the likes of Jaco Kriel and Malcolm Marx running the ball into the teeth of Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read will be worth the price of admission alone.
Good set pieces will provide front foot ball and this feels like a game that will be won by the team who can win that battle.
Is this the week the Lions miss Warren Whiteley
Many thought taking Warren Whiteley out of the Lions side would result in an immediate collapse. The South Africa captain is an influential leader on the field, both with his play and with his ability to make those around him play better. Whiteley has been an influential player – perhaps THE most authoritative player – in the Lions rise, but he will miss the final with the same groin injury that took away his final part of the season.
So far the Lions have coped without the 26-year-old. Last week against the Hurricanes, when they were down and looking like they were out, was a huge test, but it was one they pulled through.
Kwagga Smith has stepped into the captain’s role and been excellent so far, but the Crusaders are a different challenge entirely. They are a methodical and clinical bunch and without the leadership of Whiteley, things could go south in a hurry if the visitors get rolling.
What do you think? Who will win on Saturday? Let us know!
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