The regular comfy couch seat was swopped for parking my derriere in a plastic bucket seat on the Lower Level of the main grandstand at Ellispark and boy what a show it was!
We knew it was going to be passionate, heart-on-your sleeve stuff from the fearless Lions whilst the Kiwis were going to bring their clinical professionalism and tenacious defence to the encounter. The bookies rated it too close to call and that is what it proved to be. In the end the Crusaders were just that little bit smarter and cooler under pressure which saw them walk away as victors.
It was a pity for the final as spectacle that the Kwagga Smith red card was issued – correct according the letter of the law or not – as it always meant that the odds were stacked against the hosts who spent more than 40 minutes with a numeric disadvantage.
The Lions had the Crusaders on the ropes in the final quarter. Like a heavyweight boxer with weary legs the New Zealanders were in self-preservation mode in the final 20 minutes as they desperately bobbed and weaved and hung onto their opponent whilst being besieged by the ferocious finishing flurry from Ackermann’s chargers. To their credit they were resilient enough to make it to the bell.
Ultimately the Crusaders had laid a solid enough foundation in the first fifty minutes of the contest. The home side brought plenty of fire and aggression from the opening whistle but a loose ball was picked up and capitalised on by the visitors and this moment of fortune swung the early momentum in favour of the visitors. Throughout the encounter Sam Whitelock’s team were able to get themselves over the advantage line with much greater easy than their hosts and this waved momentum attacks saw tries to Goodhue and Read which left the Lions with too much to do at the end.
The two best teams in the competition went at it at the final. The Crusaders had shown incredible fortitude in comprehensively outplaying the Highlanders in the quarters and defensively shutting out the Chiefs whilst the Lions twice had to come from behind to pull of miraculous late victories. For once the hill proved to be a mountain which was just a tad too steep for the men from Johannesburg to overcome. One can thus not argue that the best team in Super Rugby 2017 did not lift the trophy at the end of it all.
In Currie Cup action the Sharks stuttered midway through their match against the Griquas but the visitors were unable to fire any shots of their own. It was a rather pathetic showing from the men from Kimberley who usually bring a lot of heart and endeavour to their efforts. On this occasion though they had little clue on attack and often merely reverted to aimlessly punting the ball back to their hosts.
The Bulls dug their heels in and refuse to move their Currie Cup clash against the Golden Lions to Ellispark as a curtain raiser to the Super Rugby final. In front of what was surely a mere 20 person “strong” crowd the home side made the most of their Loftus advantage over a under-strength Lions outfit as they book-ended their performance with a three try flourish in the opening ten minutes as well as the final ten minutes. This new generation Bulls certainly know how to throw the rugby ball around and it will be interesting to see how they develop throughout the competition.
There was also a Province vs Pumas clash (which the Capetonians left late to clinch) but let’s be honest here, it was Saturday afternoon and there was only one ting any South African rugby lover was looking forward to – the Lions trying to give SA rugby some much needed hope and inspiration.
For my weekly moan I could go into a tirade of why the rules have to be revisited with regard to a red card for an incident such as we saw on Saturday. Johan Ackermann’s views that it is surely unfair to the viewing public as much as anything else when such a harsh sentence is given is very much echoed from this side of the couch. One can understand a person getting his permanent marching orders for deliberately and blatantly punching someone or hitting an opponent high and late with a vicious tackle. But when one has to look at slow-motion visuals of where exactly the player lands to determine whether it is a ten minute dismissal or a much longer one then surely something is wrong with the system.
This critic could also launch a long winded bitching session about Allister Coetzee’s blind lottery aka the Springbok squad selection. What Mahoje has done to remain in the Bok squad or how Coenie Oosthuizen remains in the mix despite having to pull his neck out of his ass every week after being scrummed into his tortoise shell is beyond me. What Ruan Combrinck and Ruan Ackermann have to do to make the squad is a bigger mystery than the Bermuda triangle.
But instead of getting carried away with those negatives this couch critic wants to tip his hat to the big Lion himself. Johan Ackerman has not only moulded a side but created a culture at the Gauteng union. It is perhaps an important next step in his career as coach that he moves on to a new challenge where he will be tasked with having to shape a new group of players into a happy, harmonious yet dangerously efficient family. If he can pull this mission off with anywhere near the same level of success he will be destined for much bigger things.
All the best big man!
Who is Couch Critic?
Hein Diemont is the resident “Couch Critic” in the Goodforthegame Forum and he shares his weekly Super Rugby Blog the “Post Match Scuffle” or “PMS” with us.
In his blog Couch Critic channels his usual weekend swearing, ranting, cheering, whinging and bickering to the written word. Brutally honest opinions of how the Super Rugby action went down from his perspective – no punches pulled, it’s PMS time…
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