It’s a repeat of last year’s Super Rugby Final on Sunday as the Lions and Crusaders go toe-to-toe again in front of the Ellis Park crowd.
Revenge could well be in the air for the home team after that disappointing game last August and a victory would do them a power of good. However, a triumph would be more beneficial in terms of getting their 2018 back on track rather than burying the ghost of that lost final.
Indeed it’s been a disappointing couple of weeks for the Lions as losses to the Blues and Jaguares has seen their lead at the top of the South African Conference cut to six points, with the Stormers now breathing down their neck. They face the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Crusaders meanwhile, despite sitting top of their Conference, are also feeling the heat from those below them as the Hurricanes are just one point behind them with the Chiefs and Highlanders a further point back in the chasing pack. All three sides have a game in hand.
It’s therefore crucial they win at Ellis Park to avoid playing catch-up in what is again looking like a hotly contested four-horse race.
Confidence will be gained from the fact the Crusaders have won eight of their last nine games against the Lions, including last season’s final. The Lions haven’t beaten the Crusaders in a regular-season clash since February 2007, which is a serious issue for the home side.
What may encourage Swys de Bruin’s charges however is that they’ve won 18 of their last 20 games at home, failing to pick up competition points only once in that time. Countering that however is the fact the eight-time Super Rugby champion Crusaders have prevailed in six of their last seven games in South Africa, including each of their last three; never before have they won four on the bounce in the country.
That is the history of these two sides but it’s the more recent form that suggests the Crusaders are favourites to come away with the win as the Lions’ game has dipped in recent weeks. With injuries, a lack of confidence and a weak defence, the hosts do not look their usual selves and in all honesty the Crusaders face them at the perfect time. If they don’t tighten up, the Crusaders could cut loose on Sunday.
Team news: Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has made several changes to his starting line-up for Sunday’s Super Rugby clash. There are eight changes in all from the side which lost to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last week with Hacjivah Dayimani’s inclusion at number eight the biggest surprise. Another youngster, Madosh Tambwe, will start at 11 in the place of the injured Aphiwe Dyantyi. Dillon Smit will don the number nine shirt in his first start in Super Rugby this season while Corné Fourie makes his way onto the bench as the replacement hooker.
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has made three alterations to his XV as vice-captain Matt Todd returns to the side, and will wear the number seven jersey, after sitting out last week’s match with a rib injury. At scrum-half, Bryn Hall and Mitch Drummond will rotate so that Hall takes the starting spot and Drummond provides cover on the bench. The only other change in the backs sees Seta Tamanivalu return, and Manasa Mataele move to the replacements bench. Veteran fly-half Mike Delany has recovered from a jarred knee and wears the number 22 shirt.
2017: Crusaders won 25-17 in Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 42-25 in Johannesburg
2016: Crusaders won 43-37 in Johannesburg
2015: Crusaders won 34-6 in Christchurch
2014: Crusaders won 28-7 in Johannesburg
2012: Crusaders won 23-13 in Johannesburg
2010: Crusaders won 46-19 in Christchurch
2009: Crusaders won 32-20 in Johannesburg
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Jacques Van Rooyen, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marvin Orie, 21 Marnus Schoeman, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Shaun Reynolds
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Tim Perry
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Manasa Mataele
Date: Sunday, April 1
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 14:30 local (12:30 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Egon Seconds (South Africa)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)