I fully admit that I got the result of the second Super Rugby semi a bit wrong – which is a bit like saying I almost saved a penalty!
The Lions charged into the final like a raging bull (to mix metaphors – or whatever that is).
It would be a major surprise if Alistair Coetzee doesn’t base his Springbok starting XV for the Rugby Championship on the majority of the Lions side. This of course assumes that he can pick them and stay within the ‘Transition’ rules.
The Highlanders were not without hope yesterday but the power of the Lions set piece – in particular the scrum was a factor in stopping them get the momentum they needed.
It was also noticeable that the South Africans have some very powerful runners – often they were not held in the tackle and were up and off again. This combined with the altitude and their travel fatigue meant that the Highlanders were always struggling to stay in the game. It didn’t help that Lima Sopoaga, uncharacteristically, missed a couple of early penalties that would have kept them closer.
The Highlanders have some class acts in their side – not least the ‘Smiths’, but they couldn’t live with the power of the Lions and the subtle skills of Elton Jantjies.
The New Zealanders scored 4 tries against the Lions 5, but in the end they were well beaten.
The Highlanders, and indeed all of the New Zealand teams will be hoping for a less confrontational fixture list when the conferences for 2017 are set – I think I read somewhere that there will be changes to the 2016 format (but don’t quote me!).
Despite all the criticisms of the format and structure for 2016 – all fully justified in my view – the best two sides will contest the final next week in Wellington.
I imagine Johan Ackermann is maybe having second thoughts about resting his first team from the trip to Argentina in the week before the knockout stage. If he hadn’t they would now, in all probability be looking forward to a final in front of their home crowd. It may be something he will live to regret.
Whatever happens next week the 21st Super Rugby will be a team that hasn’t won before.
Alistair Coetzee has announced a training squad to meet this week – without any Lions or overseas players included.
It will be a surprise if, when he announces the squad for the Rugby Championship on 6th August, it isn’t packed with players from the Lions.