Super Rugby Final: Hurricanes v Lions Saturday 5.35pm (AEST) at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
The Super Rugby season climaxes this weekend as the Hurricanes host the Lions in Wellington, with both franchises chasing their maiden title.
Hurricanes hooker and captain Dane Coles is a likely starter after missing the semi-final with a rib injury. Meanwhile, Lions No.8 and skipper Warren Whiteley is on track to play after sitting out last week’s game.
The Hurricanes hold a 15-4 lead in 19 previous clashes with the Lions, including wins in all nine of their home games in the rivalry. The Hurricanes thumped the Lions 50-17 in Johannesburg in Round 10 – the Lions’ last defeat aside from their second-string line-up’s defeat to the Jaguares in the final round. The teams have not met in Wellington since 2011, when the Hurricanes prevailed 38-27.
The Hurricanes romped into the final via big home wins over the Sharks (41-0) and Chiefs (26-9). Likewise, the Lions qualified for their first-ever decider by thumping Kiwi heavyweights the Crusaders (42-29) and Highlanders (42-30) at Ellis Park in consecutive weeks.
Test No.10s Beauden Barrett and Elton Jantjies have been outstanding all season, and have taken their games to another level during the finals. Both playmakers’ attacking displays last week were out of this world. Their goalkicking – with Barrett, in particular, improving markedly in recent times – will also be critical.
Stats That Matter
The Hurricanes are 12-5 against the start in 2016, while the Lions are also 12-5 ATS this season. The Hurricanes are 16-3 at home since the start of 2015 (10-9 ATS). The Lions are an exceptional 11-4 against the line as the away team since the start of last year (9-5-1 overall). Four of the Hurricanes’ last seven wins over the Lions have come by margins of 14 points or more, while they scored 30-plus points in six of those matches. Home sides are 81-57-3 this season (74-67 against the start). Home favourites are 72-23 overall and 56-39 ATS in 2016.
Both teams come into the final on the back of outstanding finals performances, but both unquestionably were aided by their home-ground advantage – which immediately tilts the scales in the Hurricanes’ favour here, although the Lions are one of the better-performed teams on the road.
The Hurricanes have been outstanding on both sides of the ball throughout the playoffs, not conceding a try while producing some breathtaking attack through the class of Barrett, TJ Perenara and Ardie Savea. The Lions, too, have been brilliant on offense, racking up 42 points in consecutive weeks against quality opposition – but they also let in seven tries during their fortnight of home playoffs. The pressure of winning a maiden title provides a bit of X-factor – the Lions have overachieved massively to get this far, while all the pressure is on the Hurricanes at home after they were upset in last year’s final. Both teams play an expansive style so it’s sure to be an open game, but the Hurricanes’ superior defence and familiarity with the conditions – with cold, rainy weather forecast – will be the decisive factors, along with the big-game genius of Barrett and co. The Hurricanes should stretch out to a comfortable win and shape as a good option against the start, while a margin in the 13+ bracket is most likely.