After covering the reasons why the Lions and the Crusaders will win the Super Rugby Final in Johannesburg on Saturday it is now time to turn our attention to the individual battles that will decide the match.
At its core rugby can be broken down into a number of one on one battles that will influence a result. While every single one of these battles at Ellis Park will be important, there are simply some that matter more than others when it comes to this game.
Here are three such individual contests:
Ruan Ackermann vs Kieran Read
This is an interesting one because the two No. 8 players in this match play such different styles that the odds of them butting heads in loose play is actually quite unlikely. It is this variety in the way they play though that will determine which has the most influence on the contest.
Ruan Ackermann is actually slightly smaller than Kieran Read – 108 kgs and 110 kgs respectively – but he is the back rower out of the two that will be playing in the centre channel. Ackermann loves to take the ball flat at the line, attempting to punch holes in the opposition defence with his ability to run at gaps with his large frame.
Read, on the other hand, will spend his game out in the 15-metre channels when there is not a set piece to be dealt with first. While he is certainly capable of playing in the middle and running the opposition over, he uses his hands and his footwork to create mismatches out on the flanks.
Both will be effective at what they do, but the one that helps set the tempo and creates go forward ball will be on the winning side.
Franco Mostert vs Sam Whitelock
It is not hyperbole to say that the Lions might not even be here if it weren’t for Franco Mostert and his level of play in the semifinal. While each and every one of his teammates melted around him in the first 20 minutes against the Hurricanes, Mostert was imperious.
He almost single-handedly kept the home side in the game with his bruising running and ability to control the set piece. His lineout steals were the lone rays of hope in that earlier period for the Lions and without him, the ‘Canes would have been out of sight.
His battle against Sam Whitelock – a player who is still understated in this team chock full of All Blacks – is going to be one to watch.
Whitelock is the Crusaders captain for a reason as he always leads from the front. He will match Mostert in the set piece and his work around the park only seems to have got better in 2017.
He will carry the ball well, but every game this year seems to have seen Whitelock throwing out a crushing tackle or two. At his height, you would expect it to be difficult to hit in the correct zone, but Whitelock has an ability to lower his shoulder and strike through a tackle unlike many other locks in the game today.
Ross Cronje vs Bryn Hall
The Crusaders and the Lions are both forward dominated teams that love to run their back line off of extended phase play inside. To that end, the two scrum-halves are going to have a massive say in the outcome of the Super Rugby Final.
Ross Cronje has become the Springboks first choice scrum-half as of late and it is easy to be impressed by his play. He works as a traditional No. 9 looking to feed his hard running forwards with quick ball while directing them around the park. The key to his game is his almost flawless distribution from the ruck and his knowledge of when to switch from a forward to back based attack.
In many ways, Bryn Hall is a similar player. Pushed out of the Blues at the end of the 2016 season, he cannot have expected to be a starting half-back in the Super Rugby Final the very next year. He is understated, but he has the ability to pick holes around the ruck with his sniping runs. Hall will also have to be at his best as an organizer on defence, getting his forwards into the right channels to slow the Lions attack.
What other battles are you looking forward to on Saturday? Let us know in the comments!
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