Tonight the Super Rugby semi-finals will be played, with the Crusaders hosting the Hurricanes in Christchurch at 5:30 while the Lions welcome the Waratahs to Johannesburg at 11. Both of these matches will be intriguing, with each pitting very different styles of play against each other.
The first of the Super Rugby semi-finals will be a New Zealand showdown between the Crusaders and Hurricanes. These two teams finished first and second on the ladder on points, but due to the conference system the Hurricanes are seeded fourth for the finals. The Wellington side are perhaps the more dangerous in attack, but they are frustratingly inconsistent and have a weaker defence.
The Crusaders have been the most consistently excellent team all season, and they finished 3 wins clear of the Hurricanes on the ladder. They do not have the Hurricanes firepower with ball in hand, but will back their defence and forward pack to strangle their New Zealand rivals out of the game. They are the deserved favourites, but will need an 80 minute performance to win this match.
If the Crusaders win they will host the final, while the Hurricanes will have to travel to Sydney or Johannesburg to face the winner of the Waratahs and Lions if they get through.
The Waratahs and Lions play the other Super Rugby semi-finals match, and by the time they kick off they will know whether the winner gets a home finals match or will have to go to Christchurch. Both of these sides can score points, but they do it in very different ways. The Waratahs will be relying on the magicians in their backline to conjure some tries up, while the Lions will try and use their powerful forward pack to suck the defence in before they spread the ball wide.
Given the Waratahs have had to fly to South Africa this week the Lions will have the edge, and are the favourites to progress past the Super Rugby semi-finals. As we saw last week, however, the Waratahs do not need to play well for the whole match to win it – a 10 minute burst was enough in the quarter-final.
If the Waratahs hit a purple patch they will be very difficult to contain, but if the Lions manage to strangle them then the New South Welshmen will end their season a week earlier than they are hoping to. Both of the Super Rugby semi-finals should be great games, and whatever happens the finalists will deserve to be there.