The 2017 finalists square off at Ellis Park with a similar record so far in 2018.
The Lions flew out of the blocks with three emphatic wins to start the season but have been pegged back after losing to the Blues and Jaguares. The Crusaders themselves made a rocketing start to their campaign, however, two recent losses to NZ teams mean they will be itching to build some momentum after beating the Bulls last week.
Lions set for revenge
When the 2018 draw was released the Lions would have circled this match on their calendar. The hurt from losing last year’s final under dramatic circumstances will fuel their desire to get one back against the Crusaders and there is plenty to like about their chances. They have strike weapons all over the park with the likes of Malcolm Marx, Elton Jantjes and Johan Janse van Rensburg running riot through the early rounds.
Their biggest test will be at set-piece time where this formidable Crusaders pack will take advantage of any inaccuracies. If the Lions pack can stand up and provide clean ball to their exciting backline then they will feel confident of running this Crusaders side off the park.
On the road
Getting positive results on the road has been the cornerstone of success in recent years and nothing has changed in that respect. The Crusaders will know full well that if they don’t return to New Zealand with two wins and close to maximum points then it could spell trouble for them in this tightly contested New Zealand conference.
The Crusaders managed to blunt the Bulls in Christchurch last week with exceptional maul defence, along with old-fashioned grunt work on attack. The Lions will bring a more attacking mindset this week but I don’t see too much changing with how the Crusaders approach this one. A big factor this week will be the ability of their bench players to add impact as their legs start to get weary.
Player to watch: Sam Whitelock
Sam Whitelock is the perfect model of consistency. His ability to string together international quality performances on a weekly basis, without dropping form is simply astonishing. I have him as the player to watch this week because his work rate and experience at set-piece will be a critical weapon towards negating a powerful Lions side. The Lions are a team that flourish on momentum and a player like Whitelock has the capacity to change that momentum by winning big moments – something that was missing against the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
My Pick: The Lions will be a tough team to beat in their own backyard but the Crusaders proved last year that they are more than capable of getting the job done. Questions remain about the Lions fortitude to stay in the fight after Johan Akerman’s departure and for that reason I am picking the red and black machine to grind out another infamous win. Crusaders by 3.
Author: Simon van Ryn
I am a sports mad fanatic who loves watching drama filled code. Growing up in Wellington I have been fortunate enough to witness some great sporting moments at the Cake Tin – non more satisfying than seeing my beloved Hurricanes finally lift that trophy after 21 years of hurt.