Final: It's defence versus attack

Sun, 31 Jul 2016 15:39

REACTION: Thousands of words will be written in the build-up to the Super Rugby Final this coming week - after which a new champion will be crowned.

However, early indications are it will be a defence-versus-attack showpiece.

Both teams will be concerned about the fitness of their captains - the Hurricanes hoping hooker Dane Coles recover from a rib injury and the Lions sweating over Warren Whiteley's calf strain.

Both captains missed their teams' respective semifinals at the weekend - the Hurricanes beating the Chiefs 25-9 in an arm-wrestle in Wellington and the Lions disposing of the Highlanders 42-30 in a high-scoring thriller.

And when they go head-to-head on Saturday it will be one of the tournament's most stingy defensive systems against Super Rugby's best attacking force.

While the Hurricanes have let in 37 tries in their 15 league matches, they have not conceded a single try in the play-offs - openly admitting defence has become a focal point of their game.

In fact the Hurricanes gave not conceded a try in 221 minutes - the last five-pointer scored against them was by the Crusaders in the first quarter of their match in Round 17, a fame the Canes won 35-10.

Neither the Chiefs - whose 68 league tries were only bettered by the Lions - nor the Sharks managed to cross the Hurricanes' tryline in the play-offs.

The Lions, in contrast, have advanced to the Final on the back of their all-out attacking game - which has seen them score an astonishing 81 tries in 17 matches (15 league outings and two play-off matches) at an average of almost five tries per match.

The two finalists head-to-head:
Hurricanes: points for = 516; points against = 323; points difference = 201; tries for = 70; tries against = 37
Lions: points for = 619; points against = 404; points difference = 215; tries for = 81; tries against = 49

The last time the two sides met - at Ellis Park on April 30 - the Hurricanes raced into a 24-0 lead inside the first half-hour and eventually won 50-17.

However, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said his team will not change their approach to the Final, just because they are playing the free-running Lions.

"It'll be business as usual," Boyd told the Dominion Post.

"Monday will be recovery and Tuesday will be preparation and Wednesday will be day off and Thursday will be sharpening day [and about] getting it right and Saturday we'll play."

Along the way players such as Cory Jane, TJ Perenara and Brad Shields will help defence coach John Plumtree work up a strategy.

Flyhalf Beauden Barrett will also delve into the exercise book of plays he's always carrying around and everyone will agree on how to beat the Lions.

Both sides took down former champions this past weekend to earn their spot in the Final.

For both franchises, it is a chance to avenge years of suffering.

The Hurricanes are the only New Zealand team not to win a Super Rugby title, having twice finished runners-up over their 21 year history.

They came the closest to breaking that drought last year, losing 14-21 to the Highlanders - having dominated the competition early on before falling at the final hurdle.

The Lions, who finished second on the tournament standings, are deserving finalists - having also avenged league defeats to the Crusaders and Highlanders in their play-off matches.

Apart from the final round - when they sent a B-team to Buenos Aires to rest their frontline selections - the Lions only lost to New Zealand teams.

They get a chance to also square the ledger against the Hurricanes this week.

The Lions, then still playing as Transvaal, won the Super 10 title in 1993 - when they beat an All Black-laden Auckland team in the Final.

The last time the Lions (or Transvaal) reached the Final was in 1995 - when Queensland (no the Reds) beat them in a Super 10 Final.

Pictures: Steve Haag Sports

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Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Brumbies 15 10 0 5 43
Waratahs 15 8 0 7 40
Rebels 15 7 0 8 31
Reds 15 3 1 11 17
Force 15 2 0 13 13
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Hurricanes 15 11 0 4 53
Highlanders 15 11 0 4 52
Chiefs 15 11 0 4 51
Crusaders 15 11 0 4 50
Blues 15 8 1 6 39
Pool SA1
Team P W D L Pts
Stormers 15 10 1 4 51
Bulls 15 9 1 5 42
Cheetahs 15 4 0 11 21
Sunwolves 15 1 1 13 9
Pool SA2
Team P W D L Pts
Lions 14 11 0 3 52
Sharks 15 9 1 5 43
Jaguares 14 3 0 11 18
Kings 15 2 0 13 9