The following is a preview with betting tips for the 2018 Super Rugby final, which sees the Crusaders host the Lions. This year is a replay of last season’s final, except the game is in Christchurch rather than Johannesburg. Australian national Angus Gardner will referee the tournament decider. He will be assisted by Glen Jackson and Nic Berry as assistant referees while Shane McDermott is the Television Match Official.
Saturday, 4 August
Crusaders v Lions
View a detailed form guide for Crusaders v Lions
The reigning champions Crusaders outclassed the Hurricanes 30-12 in their semi-final last week. The win extended their home playoff record to 21-0. The Crusaders’ defence smothered the Hurricanes’ league-leading attack, with the visitors’ first try being somewhat contentious and their second coming in the 80th minute when the game was done and dusted. The Hurricanes never looked like winning as the Crusaders dominated territory, possession, the forward exchanges and the set-pieces. The Crusaders were also clinical when they had the ball. Fly-half Richie Mo’unga continues to make his case for the All Blacks no.10 jersey. Three of the last four Super Rugby winners had the leagues’ best defensive record and the Crusaders have had by far the best defence in the competition this year, conceding 18 points per game with the Hurricanes the next best at 22. For good measure the Crusaders have the second best offensive record, averaging 34 points per game. If the Crusaders win this weekend it will be their 9th Super Rugby title, while no other team has won this tournament more than three times.
In team news, the Crusaders have an injury headache at the hooker position after Seb Siataga broke his arm last week. Fellow hookers Ben Funnell (knee) and Andrew Makalio (calf) are out, leaving Codie Taylor as their only experienced No.2. Sam Anderson-Heather, who has logged just six minutes as a substitute against the Blues on July 14, is expected to be Taylor’s backup on the bench. Should Taylor get injured the Crusaders could be in trouble against the Lions’ powerful scrummaging unit, led by star hooker Malcolm Marx. Flanker Jordan Taufua also broke his arm last week, but the news is better for Ryan Crotty and Michael Alaalatoa, who both left the field but have since recovered.
The Lions bounced back from 0-14 down to defeat the Waratahs 44-26 last week. They took the lead in the 36th minute and never relinquished it. Hooker Malcolm Marx was once again the star as the Lions dominated the Waratahs’ pack. This will be the Lions’ 3rd successive final. They lost 20-3 to the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2016 and fell 17-25 at home to the Crusaders in the 2017 final. Offensively the Lions have been just as good as the Crusaders, with 34 points scored per game, but the difference is defence. The Lions have conceded 27 points per game compared to 18 for the Crusaders. The Lions have won five of their last six games coming into this clash, but four of those were at home. The Lions have gone 3-5 away from Johannesburg over the last 12 months.
In team news, star winger Aphiwe Dyantyi left the game last week with a hamstring injury, but is part of the touring squad. Flanker Cyle Brink is also in the squad after recovering from an injury that kept him out of the semi-final.
Everything points to a Crusaders victory. They are on a 14-game winning streak, a 19-game winning streak at home and a 19-game winning streak against foreign opposition. This time last year they beat the Lions 25-17 in the final, and that was played in Johannesburg, plus the Lions have regressed this season, finishing the regular season 9-7 compared to 14-1 last year. In head-to-head meetings the Crusaders have gone 8-1 against the Lions since 2009. In 22 years of Super Rugby finals the home team has gone 16-6. Four of those six away wins were achieved by the Crusaders. Only once in Super Rugby history has a team won a final on foreign soil, and that was by the Crusaders last year against the Lions. It’s hard to see the Lions repaying the favour this year given they were much stronger last season while the Crusaders are at least as strong as they were in 2017. Despite the short odds, if I were to bet on the head-to-head market I would back the Crusaders at 1.09 (BlueBet, Unibet).
Winning margin betting
Going back to 2011, in home playoff games the Crusaders’ winning margins have been: 28, 19, 15, 29, 32, 17, 14, 30 and 18. During that time the Lions played one playoff game in New Zealand, which they lost 3-20 to the Hurricanes in 2016. That 17-point defeat was on the back of a 42-25 home playoff win over the Crusaders and a 42-30 home playoff win over the Highlanders, which highlights the impact of having to cross the Indian Ocean. Since 2011, South African teams have had terrible results in playoff fixtures in New Zealand:
2011: Crusaders 38-6 Sharks (32-point margin)
2012: Crusaders 28-13 Bulls (15-point margin)
2014: Crusaders 38-6 Sharks (32-point margin)
2016: Hurricanes 41-0 Sharks (41-point margin)
2016: Hurricanes 20-3 Lions (17-point margin)
With these stats in mind if I were to bet on the winning margin market I would back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.50 (William Hill).
Total score betting
The Crusaders tend to tighten up defensively during home playoff games. Going back to 2011 no team has scored more than 13 points against them, with six of their nine opponents scoring ten or less. This has resulted in low scoring games, with an average of 40.4 and a median of 42. Since 2011 the highest scoring home playoff game for the Crusaders was 50 points, with the rest all 47 or less. When you throw in the fact that the round 7 meeting between the Crusaders and Lions in Johannesburg totaled just 22 points, I would back under the total if it is 47.5 or greater.
Back the Crusaders 13+ at 1.50 (William Hill)