The Super 18 final this coming Saturday in Wellington between the Hurricanes and the Lions from Johannesburg is a mouth-watering match up.
Two aggressive teams who play open, adventurous rugby but with sound defensive systems. Who could crack the defensive lines and drive their team to the title? We look at six players that will matter on the day.
‘Is there any more influential player on the planet?’ sideline Sky commentator Ian Smith roared after Barrett had produced yet another outrageous play which combined a chip and chase, a 60-metre run and a fine offload, ending in a Hurricanes try.
Barrett added an intercept try later in the game and his superb form in general play has spread to his goal kicking. The Super 18’s best player and leading points scorer, he’s playing at home and in the best form of his career. If he plays to his instincts, the Hurricanes’ title drought will be over.
The Lions fly half matched Barrett in both skill and influence against the Highlanders, combining exceptional vision and a short kicking game with instinctive and pacy running. His place kicking was also exemplary, and his match haul of 22 points showed that he is a player for the big occasion.
He’ll be tested by the Wellington weather and the line speed of the Hurricanes’ loose forwards, in particular a flying number 7 with a distinctive afro (hint: next on our list).
Savea had a monstrous game in the semi-final, dominating Sam Cane and shutting down the wily crafts of Aaron Cruden. The back row also passed Cane in the highest number of tackles in the Super 18 during the game.
He showcased his freakish speed and skills with one memorable break out and chip and chase. Ardie will be focused firstly on knocking Jantjes off his game, and then using his pace and power to win the race to breakdowns.
Mapoe and Rohan Van Rensburg form a formidable 12 and 13 unit, scoring 19 tries in the Super 18, and it is the midfield where the Lions have an edge over the Hurricanes.
Mapoe has sizzling pace and an eye for a gap but the Hurricanes tryline has not been crossed for 212 minutes. Can he find a way through the storm?
Kriel is a one man terminator and is the sole player who could overpower the ferocious Hurricanes forwards. The forward momentum he gives his team from set pieces will be crucial and when he roams wide in the backline, he is a huge tackle-busting threat.
The no.8 has beaten the same number of players as Israel Folau in the Super 18. The question is whether he will have enough support from his packmates to be able to make his attacking power plays.
The Chiefs were expected to dominate line outs and ruck clear outs with their international locks Brodie Retallick and Dominic Bird. However, and as has been the case for the second half of the season, Fatialofa and Vaea Fifita are just ferocious.
Add in Savea, Brad Shields and Victor Vito, and the Hurricanes have lock and loose forwards who are equally athletic, powerful and skilful. Fatialofa has been the most consistent performer of the bruising bunch.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena