Now that the organisational omni-shambles of the Super Rugby season has come to a close, let’s have a look at what we learned from the biggest final in the tournament’s history yet. Amaze your friends with amazing knowledge even though you probably haven’t watched a game of Super Rugby all season!
- Being clinical is still better than having good statistics. The Lions had the, pardon the pun, lion’s share of possession with 64% and enjoyed most of that possession in the opposition half. They made more carries for more meters, beat more defenders and managed more clean breaks, while conceding fewer turnovers. They won more than twice as many rucks, while losing less than their Christchurch opposition. In the end it didn’t matter diddly squat as the Crusaders took their chances when they got them and defended their try-line like mother bears their cubs when it mattered. Having said that….
- Ackermann probably didn’t watch the Crusader’s semifinal. Because the ‘Saders did exactly against the Lions what they did against the Chiefs. They happily let the Lions throw the ball around for a bit, they even let them make some pretty decent ground in the midfield. In fact, if you took a toilet break every time the Lions entered the Crusaders’ 22, you’d be forgiven for thinking the New Zealand outfit weren’t even that good defensively. But it was with their backs to the wall that they, and the very underrated Matt Todd especially, excelled. Bend, not break, might be the new dominant tactic for the rest of this World Cup cycle (you read it here first).
- South Africa desperately need Jantjies backup. Oh, Elton. When he has his day, you can NetBet he’s right up there with the likes of Beauden Barrett and Owen Farrell as one of the best fly-halves of this generation. When he doesn’t, he’s as terrible as his own haircut, if his haircut occasionally painted swastikas on retirement homes. A confidence player if there ever was one, it was obvious from the first 10 minutes, including a cringe-worthy drop-goal attempt and a restart that went into touch, that this wasn’t going to be his day. He simply performs about as well under pressure as a possum on a busy interstate. This will be all the more frustrating for Bok fans when looking at South Africa’s selection for the Rugby Championship. Coetzee has selected three pivots: Handré Pollard, who’s still recovering from injury and hardly played any matches this season; Curwin Bosch, who’s only 20 years old and better at fullback; and Jantjies, who’s utter look of befuddlement will make South Africa wish an actual possum was on the bench as backup. Another New Zealand clean sweep beckons on the horizon.
- Playing at altitude, the Springboks could have had a chance against the All Blacks. They don’t of course, because they will play that fixture at sea-level at Newlands, Cape Town. But had they scheduled it at Ellis Park or Loftus Versfeld, things would have been moderately less bleak. Considering the Crusaders’ dominance, it’s easy to forget the Lions had the upper hand for the final twenty minutes of the game, scoring 14 unanswered points while having been a key man down the entire second half. You could argue that this is because the Crusaders didn’t really have to defend all that well anymore, but the Lions were still clearly the better side for that portion of the game and could have miraculously come away with it in the end had it not been for some very costly handling errors.
- This final was almost perfect. It really had nearly everything: an amazing record-breaking crowd, passionate defending, an almost-but-not-quite late stage comeback, a red card which dramatically turned the penalised team better, as we’ve seen as often as unfit French teams this season. But with all said and done, there’ll be only one thing people will say when they talk about this final ten years from now: “It didn’t have a giant, creepily smiling jaguar-man doing a motivational workout accompanied by guitar and sexy sax solos, now did it?”