The Wellington Hurricanes and the South Africa-based Lions are both targeting a first Super Rugby title when they meet in Saturday’s final after similar courses through the semi-finals.
The Hurricanes are to host the final for the second consecutive year after beating the Hamilton-based Chiefs 25-9 to qualify as the top-ranked team. The Lions beat the Highlanders 42-30 in Johannesburg on Saturday, ending the title defense of the Dunedin-based team.
It is a second year in a row that the final will be contested by teams chasing a first title. It will be the third final for the Hurricanes and the first for the Lions.
The teams followed similar paths into and through the playoffs. The Lions held first place on the championship table until the final week of the regular season when they were supplanted by the Hurricanes. In finishing first and second, both teams secured home advantage in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and the Hurricanes’ first place gave them that advantage in the championship decider.
They finished with matching 11-4 regular-season records, both took seven bonus points for winning by margins of three tries or more and both were convincing home winners of quarter-finals between South Africa-based and New Zealand-based teams: The Hurricanes beat the Durban-based Sharks 41-0 and the Lions beat seven-time champions the Canterbury Crusaders 42-25.
Both faced former champions in their semi-finals and again won convincingly. The Lions beat the Highlanders by five tries to four and the Hurricanes beat 2012 and 2013 champions the Chiefs by three tries to nil.
One point of difference is their defensive records in the playoffs. The Lions have conceded seven tries in two matches, while the Hurricanes have not conceded a try in their past two-and-a-half games.
While the odds may be against a Lions victory, they have achieved a lot this season. They have been transformed under coach Johan Ackermann, posting their best-ever regular-season record.
Keenly focused and refusing to be swayed by any hype, Ackermann said: “We’ll give it our best shot. There’s no more I can ask of the guys.”
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