The superlatives have started a week early, with tomorrows ‘Super Saturday’ ready to set up two fantastic Super Rugby Semifinals. Games which will have fans shouting for joy, or collapsing in anguish. It’s knockout rugby, and it is something to cheer for; whom ever you support.
And as the four sides ready themselves for the matches on opposite sides of the world, Last Word on Rugby is ready to report on each result.
Semifinal #1 – Lions v Hurricanes, Johannesburg
Semifinal #2 – Crusaders v Chiefs, Christchurch
So to prepare, enjoy our regular forecast column, followed by extensive follow-up reports, analysis and opinion. Predictions??? Not so much. We will leave those to the pundits.
With the two matches spread across two separate conferences, it could not have possibly have been written better. South Africa have not at all been the ‘underpowered figure’ that many assumed–that role was taken up by Australia, who have definitely struggled [and the jokes are flowing on social media].
All jokes aside. The real action will start off a fantastic few hours for rugby fans. Super Saturday begins in Christchurch, New Zealand before heading to Johannesburg, South Africa. Two fantastic games involving two of the powerhouse nations in rugby.
So after last weekends quarterfinals, the outcomes, highlights and positives that followed present the Lions with ample opportunity to ‘right the wrongs of 2016’. And who would not like to have that chance. To repair the injured pride from that cold, wet night in Wellington.
Super Rugby Semifinals: Lions v Hurricanes
Several storylines play out ahead of the replay of the 2016 grand final. Yes, all 11 meetings between the two sides have been taken by the Hurricanes. But that does include the ‘old version’ of the Lions.
The 2017 squad have taken their opportunities well. Set-up in the parallel conference–it meant they did not encounter any New Zealand sides. It was a fortunate schedule, but one that others could only fancy for themselves honestly. New Zealand (NZ) sides have been running hot all year, filling four of the quarterfinals places last weekend.
How will not playing any NZ teams shape the hosts? In 2017, it is used as the advantage. More likely, that the ‘Canes can only judge the Lions form. Video and familiarity will play it’s part. John Plumtree is a fine analyst, and with championship winning coach Chris Boyle, they will have a game plan.
‘Thank Coles’ – Handy Hooker Returns for 100th Cap Match
With Coles to start, they will get a boost of energy. Much is going right for the visitors, however Beauden Barrett is yet to recapture his brightest form. If the highly talented player can recapture his attacking zeal, it will ‘rub off’ on the ‘Canes backline.
But it is the Lions backline which is of concern to the coaches. Deadly, and as easily as potent as the visitors. Lionel Mapoe is the attacking linchpin who could be the gamemaker. Elton Jantjies will want to forget his past blunders against the Hurricanes, and with Jaco Kriel the Lions have a man who can be as effective as Ardie Savea is.
It will be an across-the-board game of attack and counter-attack. Some believe the score could extend to another 60-70 epic match. And on a dry track, it will contrast the conditions across the world in Christchurch.
Super Rugby Semifinal: Crusaders v Chiefs
After what seems like weeks of rain and cold, the ground at AMI Stadium needs to well irrigated. A maintained surface can sustain your normal amount of rain, but it has been so bad that before the game on Super Saturday, they are bring in a helicopter to try to dry out the playing field.
If any luck, Richie McCaw is flying it, but the Crusaders do not need luck. They used that at the start of the season of course. But as the year wore on, Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson lived up to his reputation. He changed the culture, and brought in a winning mentality. One that has only failed them once in 16 matches.
In the wet, the Crusaders played well on several occasions this year. They have the resolve to grind out those tighter games. Young Richie Mo’unga has matured since the British and Irish Lions drubbing, so while the average points record above favours the home side, do not discount the Chiefs.
Back in round three, the Chiefs ground out a 26-18 win over the Hurricanes in dreadfully wet conditions. And they are suited to that game type. Tough men who favour the contact area, especially in this torrid local derby game. The last results have gone the Crusaders way, so it might be time to issue some misery of their own.
Chiefs Departing Men Can Inspire Semifinal Result
If anything is going to be of motivation, it is to send off your coach with a winning finish. Dave Rennie will head to Glasglow post-Super Rugby semifinals, and his team will want him to stay on for the Grand Final. A win will do that, and men like Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow will also be deserving of a fond farewell.
The big halfback is one who can influence much. His boot will be a key performance indicator. And the Crusaders are aware of that. If he can gain territory, then the finishers like Damian McKenzie or James Lowe will do the damage.
The statistics support that theme: the Crusaders have never beaten the Chiefs in the playoffs. This will be the third finals meeting between these teams after they met in the semifinals of both 2012 and 2013, the Chiefs earning wins in both but by no more than three points on either occasion.
Crusaders Wish to Write Their Own History
Apart from that telling sidenote, Robertson is used to ‘writing his own rules’. He lives by a pledge to his men and to the franchise. So pride is on the line. The leadership of Sam Whitelock is certain. He has not staggered, and has a powerful Meads-like aura. Supported by Jordan Taufua and David Havili, the home team will be comfortable knowing it is their backyard.
On their home turf, and with a very vocal small crowd, the atmosphere will be high as if it were in a larger stadium. Incidentally, that is what the city is crying out for, but AMI Stadium is still a powerful place to witness a victory–this reporter was there in late July.
Expect much of the same energy and vibe on Saturday night, even if the ground is saturated. The fans will be out for a Super Saturday to remember!
The Super Rugby semifinals are the closest to test match rugby, that you can get. The players will all tell you the speed is faster, the hits harder and the result more important. With every side only having lost three or less matches all season, they are used to one result.
Fans from both countries cannot wait for Super Saturday!
There can be only one, and by Sunday fans will know which two teams will face-off for the number one position. It will be fantastic to watch, and you can look forward to more Super Rugby coverage from Last Word on Rugby in the days to come.
“Main photo credit”