Mark Keohane: Lions to take 20-point beating in final
There will be no miracle win for the Lions in Christchurch.
They’ll lose by 20 points - and it’s not because they’re a poor side. It’s a combination of the quality of who they will play and also the absolute madness of a competition format that effectively gives a team travelling overseas just three days to prepare for a final.
The only hope for the Lions is the Crusaders lose a player or two on the way out of the tunnel.
The Lions have been in this position before in 2016 when they played the Hurricanes in the final in New Zealand. There was similar talk of the miracle win and of the belief in the squad.
The Lions had been brilliant on attack and had scored the most tries in the competition. In the final they managed one penalty in losing 20-3.
The travel undid them, as did the class of the Hurricanes.
It will be Groundhog Day in Christchurch - and that’s not being disrespectful to the Lions. It’s about dealing in realism.
I know the counter to my dismissiveness of a rugby miracle is going to be the Kevin Anderson Wimbledon triumph against Roger Federer, when the South African came from two sets down to beat the eight-time champion in five sets.
But Christchurch isn’t Wimbledon and rugby isn’t tennis and this isn’t a one-on-one individual clash; it’s 15 versus 15 and when the individual strengths of the two teams are measured, five (at best) Lions would make a combined XV.
The reason the Crusaders so comfortably beat the Hurricanes in the semi-final was because the strength of the team is in the pack and the spine of the team is world class.
The Crusaders front row is the All Blacks front row, lock Sam Whitelock is the most experienced All Blacks lock and captained the All Blacks in the absence of Kieran Read, who is fit again and starting at No 8.
Add flyhalf Richie Mo’unga to the equation and you see why the bookies have so emphatically written off the Lions chances and given the visitors a handicap of 17.5 points.
The Crusaders currently are the best provincial/franchise/club team in the world. They know how to win away from home and they have mastered the art of winning at home.
They also have not had to do any travelling since the playoffs started.
The Sharks, in 2012, sneaked into the playoffs and beat the Reds in Brisbane, flew back to South Africa and beat the Stormers in Cape Town and then flew to New Zealand to play the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Sharks coaching staff and players were as buoyant when they got on the plane. They felt a miracle was possible. They argued they had momentum. I wrote at the time that they would take 30 points because no team could do that kind of playoff travel schedule and beat a team of the Chiefs’ quality when they had been sleeping in their own beds while the Sharks clocked more airmiles in a fortnight than most do in a lifetime.
I was told I was unpatriotic, negative and that I would be the one embarrassed at my 30-point call.
The Chiefs won 37-6.
They led 13-3 at half-time and the Sharks gave it everything in those first 40 minutes. Then the travel, the quality of the opposition and home ground advantage all kicked in for the one-sided Kiwi romp.
I expect a similar kind of final in Christchurch.
Invest love and hope in the Lions if you are a Lions supporter but don’t be distraught when the inevitable happens.
I was amazed at how many on social media expressed surprise at the Sharks taking a 30-point hammering in Christchurch in the quarter-final.
The Sharks ended the regular season in eighth place and with 27 league points less than the first placed Crusaders. The 30-point differential was no more than par.
Equally, the predicted 20-pointer on Saturday.
If there is to be a miracle South African win in New Zealand this year, it will be when the Springboks play the All Blacks in Wellington; it won’t be the Lions versus Crusaders on Saturday.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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