With less than 48 hours until the 2017 Super Rugby grand final, it is the height of the season. Where an epic battle is set to be played out in Johannesburg. It is the Big Occasion for Big Name Players to ‘turn it on’.
The fixture will hold the attention of two nations, where South African team the Lions face the New Zealand Crusaders. A clash of the leading sides, number one versus number two – so in essence, the perfect final.
Leading players like Jaco Kriel, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Lionel Mapoe and Ruan Combrink of the Lions, match-up against Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Ryan Crotty, Kieran Read (see main photo) and Israel Dagg. The million dollar lineup shows the talent on show, and some will play a key role on Saturday.
Big Occasion for Big Name Players to ‘Turn it on’
Spread across the park, there are more than a dozen ‘superstars’. International players, And if there is anything to learn from the past, or from European Championship finals–if big name players can ‘turn it on’ then their team has a better chance to hold up the silverware.
But it is not just the prize. Some are forging a reputation. Building that on a championship will prove in time, how talented a player like Joe Moody or Ruan Ackermann can ultimately be. It is an explanation point, and it must be extremely self-satisfying for high performing athletes.
The Lions stand-in number eight is a little overwhelmed. “I actually don’t think it has hit home what’s coming on Saturday … I think it’ll start sinking in on Friday and then, obviously on Saturday morning,” Ackermann told South African media.
“Right now we’re just thankful we’ve got this chance after losing the final last year.”
And finals footy can be both a reward, and a harder task than anything some may have experienced. The intense pressure cooker atmosphere is where the heat is on….and Big Name Players to ‘turn it on’.
Lions Seeded First, But Grasp Underdog Status
Appearing in their second successive Super Rugby final, the Lions are certainly top seeds. Though, in terms of experience – they are second-best to the visitors. The Crusaders in fact have two men still heavily involved, who played in the 2008 victory.
Veterans Wyatt Crockett and Kieran Read have accumulated over 300 caps between them–seemingly as much as the entire Lions backline! An amazing statistic, but it still only accounts for one element of a grand final. Low on finals series experience, but ‘high on confidence’ will be one of the home team’s strengths.
And, on a winning streak too. 14 straight games, and going back to last season they have been near unbeatable at home. So through their on-field exploits, their performance and their purpose, it has promoted them into the final.
Admitting to being underdog could also be a ploy. The second highest scoring team, with an ability to score often, that term underdog might only be a label to some. There is confidence, and then there is ‘over confidence’.
That was a factor is 2016, where Johan Ackermann chose the incorrect strategy, when resting his best players in Round 17. While that backfired badly, the 2017 version of the lions have done a terrific job, and head into the final in great shape.
Lions Learn Lessons and Aim to Finish Well on the Big Occasion
For the big players and for the whole squad, by learning off of past lessons, they will show what a type of group they are. Representing their region, their heritage and the people who back them.
If Last Word on Rugby are sure of one thing, it is that they have the fan backing. An expected finals crowd of 60,000 will mostly be in support of the home side. That can be a powerful motivation–while the game still needs to be ‘taken care of’ though.
Witnessing the final last year, to LWOR it appeared that they ‘froze in the spotlight’. The intensity got the better of them–especially Elton Jantjies. If lessons can be taken from that, then a player like Jantjies can use that to perform to his natural abilities.
Superstars or not, all 23 players have to really take the occasion seriously. Because the opposition are a true challenge.
Crusaders Appearing in 12th Super Rugby Final
The challengers are ‘the franchise’. The most recognizable, and most awarded team in Super Rugby history, the side from Christchurch arrive with a purpose.
And while not having appeared in a final since 2014, the squad have an ability to reach deep in the finals series. However, under the leadership of Todd Blackadder, the final touch was missing. The ability to finish off the opposition was a missing ingredient.
So what has changed? A new head coach, obviously. But that can be a powerful instrument of improvement. Especially beneficial when that coach is such a charismatic and clinical tactician. Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson has arrived, and he has performed.
A common Crusaders characteristic–clinical.
He, along with his coaching group have done just about everything possible, to go about redeeming the franchise. And what would be the best way to top that off? A clinical performance Saturday.
Grand Final Will Bring Out the Best in Big Players
When running through the Crusaders 23 man team announced for the final, it is impressive. Very nearly an ‘all star’ line-up. Seta Taminivalu would walk into many International squads, as would Richie Mo’unga. As would Jordan Taufua and David Havili. While Jack Goodhew is on the cusp of All Blacks selection, with Bryn Hall not far from it.
A line-up that displays all the characteristics to succeed. Even if some still have unfinished business with the Super Rugby championship. Israel Dagg (see main photo) being the most vocal of those. Speaking to 1News Sport, he said that he has ‘unfinished business’.
But on Saturday, they will all need to be outstanding. A big occasion for Big Name Players like Dagg to ‘Turn it on’. And the good news is that Read has been named to start, after suffering an ankle injury in last weekends semifinal.
Needing everyone of their big name players, they will have to survive a battle–and one that is alien, in it’s altitude.
Conditions at Ellis Park Might be the Key Finals Factor
Much has been; and will be said of the elevation. Ellis Park will forever be a daunting prospect. So for most teams, it can be a task too much. The Hurricanes, 2016 champions had a great base at 10-22 after 40 minutes. What followed was a failure to finish–and the Crusaders must show that they can learn from others mistakes.
Both sides have named the same 23 man squads. And even if the Crusaders did have to travel half way across the globe, they are embracing the challenge. They might even accept the tag as ‘favourite’. Possibly, in experience terms but in popular opinion, the Lions seem like a hard team to beat [at home].
If the odds fall the way punters call it, then Johan Ackermann can feel that his five years have all been worthwhile. He and his players will have added a second South African franchise name to the Super Rugby list. And that will be a reward for the tough decisions (and sacrifices) that the African group have made. In exiling two of their own from the competition–winning the final would be ultimate turnabout, to repair some of the wounds inflicted recently.
Of course, there is a little matter of 80 minutes of finals football before that will ring true. But, for all fans of Super Rugby, the wait til then will be an exciting one, and lead to a new champion being crowned.