Prior to the 2016 campaign, the Lions had never played in a finals fixture let alone a Super Rugby Final and now, for the second season in succession, they will contest the big dance against a New Zealand heavyweight. They will face no tougher task than the Crusaders, the most experienced Super Rugby club when it comes to Finals.
At the crux of each of their campaigns to lift the Super Rugby 2017 silverware lies a pivotal fly-half who has been amongst their chief point scoring creators this season. Elton Jantjies has enjoyed perhaps one of his best ever Super Rugby seasons, buoyant on the highs he enjoyed in a breakout Lions’ season last campaign.
He’s contributed 190 points so far this campaign, which is the exact same amount he posted in 2016 and his equal most ever in a single Super rugby season. He’s morphed his role from simply a creator of opportunities in 2016 to an exploiter of those same chances, registering 12 more carries and three more clean breaks than he had throughout the entire 2016 season.
While it has come at the expense of creating opportunities for others (Jantjies has delivered just five try assists this season) his own game has flourished. The Lions’ playmaker is once again finding the posts with three-in-four of all attempts at goal and his four tries for the campaign are as many as he had scored in each of his previous six seasons combined.
The big dance will have added significant for Jantjies, who will run out for his 100th Super Rugby cap on Saturday, including his single-season stint at the Stormers in 2013, while it will be his seventh encounter with the Crusaders (6th for the Lions).
He’ll face off against a markedly less experienced opponent this week, though the Crusaders’ Richie Mo’unga will be just a threatening as the Lions stalwart.
Indeed, the Crusaders’ flyhalf has been quiet in their trudge towards this year’s final, scoring just seven points in each of his last three appearances. However, his form piques when the Crusaders face the tough task of playing rugby overseas.
Mo’unga has scored 54 points in his last four games outside New Zealand, including 41 in three games in South Africa. Not only has he scored plenty of points for himself in those fixtures, but he’s managed to assist one try in each of his last four games outside his home nation, and managed a try assist and 10 points of his own when the Crusaders travelled to face the Lions in the 2016 post-season.
The two number 10s will be pivotal in deciding which team lifts the Super Rugby trophy in 2017 when the Lions and Crusaders take to the field on Saturday evening.