Crusaders smash Emirates Lions’ Vodacom Super Rugby 2017 dream

The Crusaders defeated 14-man Emirates Lions 25-17 in a gripping Vodacom Super Rugby Final played at Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon to lift their eighth title and deny the home side a dream finish to an emotional campaign.

The match was marked by the first half red card shown to Kwagga Smith for making contact with David Havili in the air two minutes before the break.

In fairness though, the Kiwi side dominated the opening stanza to set them up for success, despite the courageous fight back from the home side in the latter stages of this absorbing clash.

The match was played before a record capacity crowd of 62 000 and was also the farewell occasion of Emirates Lions coach, Johan Ackermann, who will join English Premiership club Gloucester next week.

Ackermann said afterwards the Crusaders deserved to win the title and also praised his team for their fighting display, especially in the second half.

“The result did not go our way, but I asked the guys at half-time not to give up, to keep fighting and they did that,” explained Ackermann.

“It took a lot out of 14 men for them to come back and I’m very proud of them – they showed a lot of character. It was phenomenal, coming from 3-25 down to run them close is what will stay with me.

“They did their homework and contested well in the lineouts where they stopped our drives close to their line. They played good rugby all year, have been consistently superb and are worthy champions.”

The Highveld team made a slow start and it was the visitors who was setting the pace in the collisions, while they also took their chances to keep the scoreboard busy. With one man down and battling a 12-point deficit at halftime (15-3), the home side had a mountain to climb in the second half against the competition’s most successful team.

After the restart, No 8 Kieran Reid crashed over for a converted try and while adding a penalty, the Crusaders stretched their lead to 25-3.

To their credit, the home team dug deep and fought back bravely, with scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and the rest of the bench making a huge impact. Lively hooker Malcolm Marx scored their first try, while Corne Fourie added a second later on.

However, in the end it was the Crusaders’ spirited defence against a late, determined home onslaught that ultimately clinched the 2017 title.

Scorers

Emirates Lions – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Corne Fourie. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalty: Elton Jantjies.

Crusaders – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Kieran Reid. Conversions: Richie Mounga (2). Penalties: Mounga.

Record Crowd Set for 2017 Super Rugby Final

On Saturday the 2017 Super Rugby Final kicks-off at Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg between the Lions (South Africa) and the Crusaders (New Zealand). The match is set to break the all-time attendance match record of 61,823 crowd set at ANZ Stadium, Sydney, at the 2014 Super Rugby Final.

The Lions, runners-up in 2016 to the Hurricanes, are appearing in their second successive Super Rugby final and will be keen to add their name to the Champions list for the first time. The Crusaders are the most successful team in Super Rugby history having won the Super Rugby title seven times.

SANZAAR CEO, Andy Marinos said, “The final is highly anticipated by rugby fans and will see the best two teams of the season go head to head for the title this year. Lions fans, disappointed not to have seen their team win the title last year in Wellington, have ensured a bumper crowd will be present in Johannesburg with the Lions confirming it is a sell out.”

Lions CEO, and former Springbok, Rudolph Straueli, said, “Lions fans are passionate about their rugby and are desperate to see their team win the title. When the tickets went on sale they sold out within a matter of two hours. The last time we had a sell out was the Springboks versus All Blacks a few years ago and I believe we will set a new Super Rugby record on Saturday when the Lions take on the Crusaders.”

The two teams had their captain’s run training sessions at Emirates Airlines Park today and both declared themselves fit and raring to go in the final. Lions captain Jaco Kriel and Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock appeared with the Super Rugby trophy at the stadium to promote the global broadcast by SuperSport.

2017 Super Rugby Final

Saturday 5 August: Lions versus Crusaders at Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg.

Kick-off Times

Saturday 5 August: 1100 Argentina, South Africa 1600, Singapore/West Australia 2200, Japan 2300, Australia (Mid-night 0000)

Sunday 6 August: 0200 New Zealand

Super Rugby Past Winners

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Unchanged Emirates Lions and Crusaders set for titanic deciding battle in 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final

Capacity crowd to watch 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final in Johannesburg

The Emirates Lions and the Crusaders have announced unchanged teams for their 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final on Saturday in Johannesburg.

Kick off at Emirates Airline Park is at 16h00 and the decider will be televised live on SuperSport 1.

Emirates Lions coach Johan Ackermann has announced the same match 23 for a third consecutive encounter following their sensational 44-29 comeback triumph over the Hurricanes at the same venue last weekend. Springbok flanker Jaco Kriel will again lead the Johannesburg side in the injury absence of regular skipper Warren Whiteley, who is battling with a groin problem.

They will run out against an unchanged Crusaders team which defeated the Chiefs 27-13 last weekend in Christchurch, thus keeping alive their quest for an unprecedented eighth title triumph.

The Highveld team is only the second South African side to play in two consecutive Finals and they follow in the footsteps of the Vodacom Bulls who first achieved the feat in 2009 and 2010. They fell to the Hurricanes in the 2016 Final in Wellington.

Last Saturday’s thrilling victory over the ‘Canes was also the 15thconsecutive home win for the men in red, which extended their record for a sequel of consecutive wins.

The Emirates Lions will play the seven times champions in front of a record, capacity crowd of 62 000 home supporters and a Test-match like atmosphere is expected at their Johannesburg fortress.

The statistics and record-breaking feats aside, the match will also be an emotional affair for the team, their loyal supporters and especially Ackermann. The Final is his farewell game after in charge of the Emirates Lions before he heads to Gloucester in England, with assistant coach Swys de Bruin set to take over the head coaching duties.

The dream final also sees the competition’s two top-ranked team going into battle against each other.

The Emirates Lions finished in first place on the overall standings on 65 points, two more than the Crusaders in second. Both sides lost only one of their 15 regular fixtures, with the Joburg outfit crucially bagging two more bonus points and home ground advantage throughout the playoffs.

According to Kriel, his team has received an enormous amount of support and encouragement from all over South Africa since their sensational semi-final win.

“The amazing amount of messages we have received from all over the country since last Saturday is just incredible,” explained Kriel.

“We are very humbled and grateful for this support and were are also very determined to give our best performance against the most successful team in the history of the competition. It will be a very tough but exciting contest on Saturday.”

If the scores are tied after full-time, then the teams will play two extra halves of 10 minutes each with a break of five minutes in-between. The Final will be refereed by Jaco Peyper, who will be assisted by South African compatriot Marius van der Westhuizen and New Zealander Glen Jackson. Marius Jonker (SA) will perform the television match official duties.

Teams and match information:

Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.

Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody. Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge.

PIC Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders

Match information:
Date: Saturday, 5 August 2017
SA Time: 16h00
Venue: Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson, Marius van der Westhuizen
Television match official: Marius Jonker

Issued by SA Rugby Communications

Lions tour: Warren Gatland finally gets chance to return fire to critics after win over Crusaders

Lions prevail in war of attrition against Crusaders

At last, Warren Gatland got his chance to squeeze off some shots of his own.

In the wake of the British and Irish Lions 12-3 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night, coach Gatland, probably still picking the buckshot out of his hide following the mid-week loss to the Blues and mediocre performance in the opener against the NZ Baabaas, didn’t waste his chance to return fire.

“It has been a tough week, there has been a lot of criticism hasn’t there?” Gatland said. “People have written the tour off after just two games, and that has been challenging. We just had to stay strong within the group and keep the faith and say ‘look the goal is the test matches and … to improve on that.

Gatland shouldn’t have had to go too far from his laager to find some folks who were chuffed with this result; the vocal Lions fans, who made their presence felt at AMI Stadium, would have flooded the city’s watering holes to acknowledge their side’s victory over a team yet to taste defeat in Super Rugby.

Gatland’s lot did a number on the Crusaders and you couldn’t gripe about the result; the game plan was simple, and executed with brutal efficiency.

In addition to raining down bombs on the Crusaders back three, the Lions’ used a defensive line-speed that forced the Mainlanders into uncharacteristic errors, which reduced their chances to unleash their trademark counterattacks.

Their set pieces were also competitive, although the Crusaders hardly helped themselves by botching several lineouts in the first half.

Complaints about the way French referee Mathieu Raynal handled the scrums are already flowing in thick and fast, and afterwards Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock took a diplomatic stance.

Whitelock, who had to watch as his front rowers Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks seethed whenever Raynal lectured them, acknowledged his side struggled to adapt to the interpretation of the law according to the Frenchman – getting the gap and balance right was a talking point at halftime.

Until this defeat, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson hasn’t had to deliver a post-match sermon in the wake of a loss.

GETTY IMAGES
Owen Farrell, pictured kicking one of his four penalties at AMI Stadium, made his first start of the tour for the British and Irish Lions.

Although they expected the Lions to employ the blitz defence, as they did against the Blues, and was clearly not thrilled about the way his scrum, which contained six All Blacks, was caned by Raynal, he said they let themselves down with their own execution.

“It was like a washing machine, go back and go forward, as they put the ball behind you,” Robertson said. “We just didn’t deal with it as well as we would have liked to.”

This was no mean feat by the Lions who will face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday night – even if they had to rely on Owen Farrell to kick four penalties.

Keeping the Crusaders try-less, one of the most lethal attacking teams in Super Rugby, will be a massive confidence booster. So, too, was the way the backline functioned after having to be re-jigged following the loss of fullback Stuart Hogg and centre Jonathan Davies because they failed head injury assessments.

“We were up against the most creative team in Super Rugby and they didn’t create a lot of chances,” Gatland noted.

About 20 minutes after Gatland had delivered his sermon a small earthquake caused the city to shake. You could also say the Lions’ have sent a message will reverberate throughout New Zealand; maybe it won’t cause great anxiety for All Blacks fans, but it should give them cause to think twice when saying their team should steam through the test series 3-0.

British and Irish Lions 12 (Owen Farrell 4 pen) Crusaders 3 (Richie Mo’unga pen) HT: 9-3

by Stuff.co.nz

Blues silence Lions’ roar after fumbly Eden Park clash A torrid tour looks longer by the day.

Ihaia West’s late try gave the Blues a famous win over the British and Irish Lions.

It took all of 74 minutes but the difference between New Zealand rugby and the Lions eventually came to the fore.

Creativity, endeavour and offloads saw the Blues record a historic 22-16 triumph over the tourists at Eden Park, piling the pressure on Warren Gatland.

Watch it again and again if you can. Down by one point with time running out, Steven Luatua, in his final home match for the Blues, delivers a silky offload to Sonny Bill Williams who does likewise for Ihaia West. The out-of-favour Blues playmaker turns hero to scoot around two Lions defenders and race under the bar. It was brilliant, but not totally unexpected when it comes to New Zealand rugby.

Lions assistant coach Rob Howley described these sort of plays as ‘rugby chaos’. When it comes off like this, it is more like rugby romance. This was a magic moment.

The Lions still had one final shot to win it but they botched a lineout five metres out from the Blues line, robbing them of the chance to rumble over again. The Blues kicked the ball into touch and erupted. As did most of the 40,000 that packed the stands.

While the Blues are the first Super Rugby team to face – and beat – the Lions, they also follow the Auckland provincial team’s to knock over the same opposition on the same ground in 1930, 1983 and 1993. Memorable indeed.

Three-tries-to-one is reason enough to say the Blues deserved to win. That they did it with a scrum that was pinged off the park only enhances their claims.

Gatland’s men deserve credit for showing character to not concede with Liam Williams in the bin. But they again offered little on attack and now face the prospect of taking on the All Black-laden Crusaders pack three days later in Christchurch. Good luck with that.

Rieko Ioane starred on the left wing for the Blues, scoring one try and being denied two others. Once he had a foot in touch; the other was pulled back for a forward pass. But he was lethal with every touch.

Williams took a major step up on attack and defence, putting in countless tackles. But this was a collective effort from the Blues.

Over their jet-lag, the Lions arrived with much more energy than their first outing in Whangarei. Not that it was hard to improve from such a low starting point. Their line speed and rush defence frequently knocked the Blues ball carries back and made it difficult to get go-forward. One big hit from Courtney Lawes on Stephen Perofeta summed up their intent and aggression to shut down time and space.

But, on a wet Auckland night, the Lions also showed their hand and potentially lack of aerobic fitness by attempting to slow the pace at every opportunity – walking slowly to each lineout in especially.

Perofeta, in his first start for the Blues at No 10, did not look overawed. Twice he backed his instincts to throw ambitious long passes that put Ioane away, one of which resulted in the opening try. The 20-year-old made a try-saving tackle on Jared Payne; one cross field kick found Matt Duffie, and his touch line kicking was also generally sound. He dropped one ball on his own line under pressure but, otherwise, lived up to the hype in the biggest occasion of his career.

It was not an easy night but the composed nature of his 50-minute shift saw him receive a warm reception when replaced by West.

In the face of Warrenball criticism this week, the Lions offloaded at times and turned down two shots at goal in favour of backing their rolling maul. The Blues tried but failed to stop the second crack, conceding a try to CJ Stander. But, despite their dominance of possession, the Lions again created few genuine chances. Their maul still appears the greatest weapon.

Pressure, patience and phases did not translate into points, though french referee Pascal Guzere did the Lions few favours.

The Blues defence, strong all season, again held firm.

Tana Umaga’s men battled to get their share of the pill, partly because their scrum was a shambles and their lineout struggled to win clean ball. But they always looked more dangerous when they did control possession, much more so in the second half.

Halfback Rhys Webb and Stander were among the Lions’ best. English locks Maro Itoje and Lawes were strong, too. But given what’s to come, Gatland will again be forced to clutch for positives.

A torrid tour looks longer by the day.

Scorers:

Blues: (Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ihaia West tries, Stephen Perofeta con, Ihaia West pen, con )

Lions: (CJ Stander try, Leigh Halfpenny con, pen 3)

HT: 12-10

– Stuff

In rugby the All Blacks are sweeping all before them

It was Napoleon who was first recorded as saying he that he knew a battle would be won or lost by the degree of resolve shown by his troops in the periods of the fray when they had to defend, as opposed to when they were ordered to attack.

Rugby, we know, is war without guns and cannons. It is physical confrontation, first and foremost, and he who is not resolute in the physical showdowns is lost. A willingness to attack and the skill to offload in the tackle is what scores you tries and in the long run makes you a winner of competitions as opposed to also-rans, but deadly attack cannot happen if it is not underpinned by steadfastness on defence.

It is not being negative to say that in sport you first and foremost have to shore up your defence, you have to become a fortress and, quite literally, have the mindset of refusing to let the opposition score. It is as much a basic premise of soccer than it is of rugby. The trouble with both sports is when a team does not embrace the need to attack once they have sorted out their defence.

English soccer, and indeed the national team of that country, for too many years were too conservative in focusing solely on defence and hoping that the odd breakaway attack would win them the game.

It is why soccer teams such as Argentina, Germany and Spain have won the trophies in recent years while a team like England seldom advances beyond the quarter-finals.

And in rugby it is why the All Blacks are sweeping all before them. You can’t score against them and then once they have absorbed your pressure, they cut loose in the last 15 minutes with ruthlessly efficient attack and annihilate you. Because they can … How many games in recent years, especially against the Boks at Ellis Park, have the Kiwis been behind only to win emphatically with a brace of tries in the dying minutes…?

It is not being negative to say that defence must be the initial priority. It is the foundation. And, in fact, you cannot attack with long-term ambition if you do not have the springboard provided by a solid defence.

Over the two decades of Super Rugby, there is ample evidence to support this contention.

The Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs of New Zealand have historically illustrated the point. Those Kiwi teams for some 15 years of this competition naively believed that their maverick attacking play made them above the basic dictum that defence separates the men from the boys.

The Hurricanes, probably more than any other team, have illustrate that profligacy on attack and a secondary commitment to defence adds up to also-ran status.

Going back to the days of superstars such as Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga, the Hurricanes revelled in scoring memorable tries emanating from deep within their half with their devil-may-care approach.

And they were hugely entertaining, as were the Highlanders, Chiefs and also the Blues. But the bottom line was that those teams ultimately lost more games than they won while their more pragmatic countrymen, the Crusaders, monotonously won titles.

Which brings us to the Sharks … The Crusaders won 19-14 at Kings Park last week, their relentless attack ultimately prevailing over the magnificent defence and scrambled attack of the home team.

Almost a year to the day, the Crusaders had been back in Durban and hoping to emulate their 42 point win in 2015.

In that year, the Sharks were hopeless on attack and quite obviously the same on defence. This year the attack had not advanced, but the fortitude in the tackle mean that the result was in question going into the final ten minutes.

As coach Gary Gold said as the dust was settling on the result: “I am extremely positive because I know I have a team that is exuding character. As a coaching staff we can work with that. The players have the right attitude and that means we have the principle ingredient with which to craft something special. It was not like that last year.”

By Mike Greenaway

NO PAY FOR NO PLAY FOR ERRANT SHARKS RUGBY PLAYERS

Sharks players that are suspended from rugby because of foul play will now be docked their wages.

This was the no-nonsense resolution passed at a meeting of the Board of the Sharks Directors at Kings Park yesterday.

The notorious disciplinary record of the Sharks in Super Rugby this year – three red cards and three yellows – was high on the agenda and the Board has shown firm leadership in clamping down on the issue by warning the players that they will be hit where it hurts most if they irresponsibly transgress – in their pockets.

Chairman of the Board Stephen Saad told The Mercury that the Board agree fully with the public that the reckless behaviour of some of the players is intolerable. Saad went further and said that the suspensions given to the players by organising body SANZAR is not enough.

“We have decided that going forward there must be a policy of ‘no pay for no play’ should a player be suspended for foul play,” said Saad, who is one of the country’s leading captains of industry with his pharmaceutical company, Aspen.

Saad said this would be a prerequisite in future player contracts at the Sharks and that the current players would be “asked” to have the clause accepted into their contracts.

“The Sharks Board agree that red cards and dirty play cannot be condoned and it is unacceptable that this behaviour be associated with the Sharks brand,” Saad said. “We endorse the executive management’s suggestion that the current censure (suspension from playing) is inadequate and can confirm that further sanction on the players has been taken over and above that served from SANZAR.

“To this end we consulted legal counsel with regarding ‘no play-no pay’ for red cards,” he continued. “We feel this new censure is appropriate and will have the necessary teeth.”

The Sharks have lost senior players in Bismarck du Plessis (four weeks for a kick to the head), Frans Steyn (five weeks for a tip tackle) and Jean Deysel (seven weeks for a knee to the head) plus have had three other sinbinned.’

Jean Deysel sent off during the Crusaders game in Durban on Easter Saturday

As it stands, the suspended players are on full pay. It is known that senior Springbok can earn up to R500 000 a month from provincial and national contracts, a fortune however you look at it but particularly if he is idle at home because of a reckless act on the field.

It is not going to happen again at the Sharks.

The three afore-mentioned players are part of the seven-man player leadership group and all have captained the team, and with another member of the group, Patrick Lambie, injured for six weeks, the impact of the suspensions has surely been keenly felt by the squad and the coaching staff, who count on the support of the leadership group.

But it was not all doom and gloom at the meeting. Saad said the good news was that there has been a financial recovery over the last year or so under CEO John Smit.

“At the KZNRU AGM the consolidated accounts showed a financial turnaround of nearly R22 million in a single year,” he said. “The largest part of this turnaround can be attributed to the Sharks’ financial improvements. John has not only managed his expenses well and implemented the needed governance but has been instrumental in driving the sponsorship revenue.

“This was sorely needed to underpin the investment we need to make in our squad to help impact the future strength of Sharks rugby.”

The Sharks face a must-win game against the Bulls at Kings Park on Saturday. They have slipped to ninth on the overall standings and have lost their last two games.

“On the rugby front the Board recognises that we are not where we would like to be but need to acknowledge that John and his team in less than two years have won a Currie Cup, been in a Currie Cup semi-final with a very young squad and topped the SA Conference in Super Rugby last year for the first time.”

by Mike Greenaway

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