Well-balanced Lions have shot in Final
REACTION: The Lions' mindset and scramble defence will be key aspects in the Super Rugby Final. Josh Isaacson reports.
The Lions on Sunday departed on a gruelling 11,800-kilometre, 15-hour flight to New Zealand - where they will face the Hurricanes in the Final in Wellington this coming Saturday, August 6.
However, if they repeat the form they showed in the 42-30 win over the Highlanders at the weekend, they are in with a real shot - despite the travel factor.
Highlanders captain and All Black fullback Ben Smith felt travel will not be a factor in the Final.
"They definitely have a chance," Smith told a post-match media briefing at Ellis Park, adding that they have shown in the play-offs just how well they can play.
"I don't think travel is going to be an issue - it is going to be a great game to watch."
Smith gave credit to the Lions for a well-deserved victory and further highlighted the belief that the Lions used defence as a means with which to attack.
"We probably didn't take our opportunities, but that was because of their great scramble defence that they use."
He pointed to how much the Lions have grown over the last few years.
"They are a great team when it comes to running the ball and they fully deserved the win," explained the All Blacks fullback.
"The speed they played at put us under real pressure," Smith said, adding that it was one of the fastest games he has played in.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph described the Lions as a well-balanced team that has the best of South African and New Zealand rugby.
"Like any other South African team they put pressure on you through the set pieces - through their maul, through the scrum," Joseph said.
"They have a great mindset, which comes out in their defence as well."
Joseph, like Smith, believe the Lions created the opportunities to win the game with some resolute defence.
Joseph said the Lions were outstanding with their defensive efforts, their work at the breakdown and the scrum.
"I thought we started the game very well," he said, adding: "We had a couple of opportunities to score and you have to take your hat off to the scramble defence of the Lions to come back and tackle us two or three times in the corner.
"They had the wood on us in the scrum, which created pressure and at the breakdown as well - so those were probably the three areas where the game was decided."
Joseph added that the Lions managed to win key battles throughout the game - such as when Highlanders flank Elliot Dixon knocked the ball forward on the tryline, after a big tackle from the Lions.
"That would have put us tied again. We got a few line-breaks and got tackled in the corner three or four times.
"Elliot was just one of them [the tackles] and then give a penalty away and beat ourselves really in allowing the Lions to get ahead."
By Josh Isaacson, at Ellis Park