|Lions v Crusaders: Sunday 12.30am (AEST)
at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
|Best Bet: Crusaders WIN ($2.00)
Value Bet: Crusaders by 1-5 ($5.00)
The Lions and Crusaders both suffered disappointing final-round losses to be pitched into this Johannesburg blockbuster, which shapes as the tightest of the weekend’s qualifiers.
After controversially resting the bulk of their first-choice squad last week, the Lions are set to recall their top-liners for this must-win clash. Captain Warren Whiteley will undergo a fitness test to take his place in the Lions’ pack.
The Crusaders have been hit by a double injury blow to star winger Nameni Nadolo and All Blacks prop Joe Moody. Jone Macilai is an option to replace Nadolo, while David Havili could be shifted from the No.12 to the wing with Kieron Fonotia coming into the midfield. Andy Ellis and Sam Whitelock should start after withdrawing late last week.
The Crusaders have won 15 and the Lions four of the franchises’ 19 previous encounters. The Crusaders also boast a 6-3 record at Ellis Park, which includes a 43-37 victory over the Lions earlier this season.
The Lions won five straight games heading into the final round, where their second-string line-up crashed to a 34-22 loss to the Jaguares in Buenos Aries. Top of the South African Group with an 11-4 record, the Lions have scored more points than any team in the competition but are ranked just 10th defensively.
Since the international break, the Crusaders suffered losses to the Chiefs and Hurricanes either side of obliterating the Rebels, which saw them tumble from top spot on the ladder to seventh (fourth in the NZ Conference). They are ranked third in attack and fifth in defence.
The Lions’ livewire No.10 Elton Jantjies has been central to the Lions’ success this year, and was called up by the Springboks for the Test series against Ireland in June. This match shapes as one of Crusaders rookie flyhalf Richie Mo’unga’s toughest assignments to date – the youngster has had an impressive season but needs to take charge this weekend.
Stats That Matter
The Lions are 10-5 against the start in 2016, while the Crusaders are 9-6 ATS this year. The Crusaders have won 12 of their last 13 against the Lions, including the last seven games straight. The Lions are 10-5 at home (9-6 ATS) since the start of last year. The Crusaders are 9-6 on the road since the start of 2015 (8-7 ATS). The Crusaders are undefeated against non-NZ teams in 2016. Home sides are 76-56-3 this season (69-66 against the start). Home favourites are 67-23 overall and 51-39 ATS in 2016.
Both sides will be lamenting the position they are currently in – if either had won last weekend they would have topped the table and be facing a much easier first-up finals game. The Lions have a few experienced campaigners, but the franchise has not appeared in the Super Rugby playoffs since 2001, and the pressure-cooker environment could be telling. The Crusaders, although they haven’t won the comp since 2008, are perennial finalists and are laced with All Blacks superstars. Look for the likes of Read, Whitelock, Crockett, Crotty and Dagg to spearhead a nail-biting win for the visitors.
The Way It’s Shaping
Crusaders by 3
Crusaders WIN ($2.00)
Crusaders by 1-5 ($5.00)