After 17 thrilling rounds and some brilliant playoff rugby, the Lions will face the Hurricanes at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on Saturday for the 2016 Super Rugby Championship. Both teams are loaded with international talent and will be taking a shot at their first ever title.
To add to the relevance of this game, both sides appear to be hitting their peak at exactly the right moment, so it should prove to be a thrilling encounter.
Even after losing some world-class talent last season, the top-seeded Hurricanes arrived in the final after dismantling both the Sharks and Chiefs in the knock-out stages. Their form is due in large part to Beauden Barrett, who is arguably the world’s in-form number 10.
Barrett is certainly red hot at the moment and will have his eyes set on making history on Saturday. More on that later.
After having missed the Semi-Finals against the Chiefs with a rib injury, All Black Dane Coles is slated to start on Saturday. Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said: “Colsey has made good progress each day and clearly he is very keen to play in the final.”
Once again, star winger Julian Savea will see action off the bench, probably replacing Jason Woodward.
Aside from those already mentioned, the Hurricanes have a number of classy players to keep an eye on. TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, and tearaway Ardie Savea to name a few.
James Marshall, Cory Jane, Matt Proctor, Willis Halaholo, Jason Woodward, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Michael Fatialofa, Vaea Fifita, Ben May, Dane Coles (c)/Ricky Riccitelli, Loni Uhila. Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli/Leni Apisai, Chris Eves, Reggie Goodes/Mike Kainga, Mark Abbott, Callum Gibbins/Tony Lamborn, Jamison Gibson-Park, Vince Aso, Julian Savea
The Lions appear in Saturday’s final after having taken a very impressive route through two very strong New Zealand sides. Having won convincingly over the Crusaders and the 2015 champion Highlanders, the Lions will be feeling confident that they can pin a third New Zealand scalp to the wall.
With the highly-skilled Elton Jantjies at the helm, the Lions have a solid chance of pulling off what has to be an elusive hat-trick.
Like Coles, Lions skipper Warren Whitely is also back after missing his team’s Semi-Final victory over the Highlanders. What could make a win even more special for the Lions is that most can easily remember the days of obscurity and relegation.
Whitely states: “We’ve learnt a lot in the past couple of years and we’re fortunate enough to have a lot of continuity in the squad.”
Keep an eye out for Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Jaco Kriel, and Faf De Klerk. Don’t be surprised if some of those names are mentioned when coach Allister Coetzee names his Springbok squad.
Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Courtnal Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (c), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Dylon Smith. Reserves: Armand van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Jacques van Rooyen, Lourens Erasmus, Ruan Ackermann, Ross Cronje, Howard Mnisi, Jaco van der Walt
KEY MATCH-UP: Beauden Barrett vs. Elton Jantjies
It’s no secret that all eyes will be on the battle at flyhalf. It’s hard to imagine a better 10 than Barrett as he may be the best player in the world at the moment.
He’s been a human highlight-reel for years and it appears he has now grown beyond mere flash to become a very well-rounded flyhalf. He needs to come out of the gates fast and being at home will certainly help.
We can argue Cruden or Barrett another day, but this shows the kind of talent New Zealand have at 10.
Jantjies too is a highly-skilled playmaker, as he showed with some long-range runs and his two try-assists against the Highlanders. However, this is just a small sampling of what he’s done all year as he is third in overall points in the competition.
The Lions will be playing at a sold out Westpac stadium, so therefore in tandom with dynamic scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, they will rely on Jantjies to stay collected and show the brilliance that’s gotten them to this point so far.
FACTS AND STATS: via opta
- The Hurricanes have appeared in two finals, losing to the Crusaders in 2006 and the Highlanders last year, in 2015.
- This is the first trip to the Finals for the Lions
- The Lions have won their last three consecutive games against New Zealand opposition, scoring in excess of 40 points on each occasion.
- Beauden Barret (70) and Elton Jantjies (71) have kicked more goals than anyone else in the competition. Jantjies (74%) has been slightly more accurate than Barrett (70%).
- The Hurricanes have won the last three clashes, including a 50-17 beatdown earlier this year
What should be a good game between two in-form teams could come down to the weather as it looks to be wet and slippery, which could play in to the Hurricanes hands.
Kickoff: 7:35PM, August 6th, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, NZ
Here’s Sean Maloney and Co. with their own brand of a preview video
And a fan-made preview