Spare a thought for the Lions.
To paraphrase the old saying – they go as lions to the slaughter on to AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
Peering at them from the other side of the halfway line will be the reigning champions, the winningest team in the Super Rugby’s history, the Crusaders.
And as winning records go, the Crusaders make even the All Blacks look second rate.
With eight titles under their belt, they have won a staggering 33 out of their last 36 matches – a winning ratio of 92 per cent.
Including this year, in total the Crusaders have played in more than half the Super Rugby finals ever played – 13 out of 23.
Last season, they lost just one match the entire campaign. This year, they lost two, in a row, a very rare stumble from this peerless side.
In stark comparison, the Lions have lost seven matches this year alone.
But anyone’s record pales in comparison to the Crusaders. They are currently on a 14-match winning streak, which is two shy of their record of 16.
The Crusaders record against the Lions is just as commanding.
The Red and Blacks have won nine of their last 10 games against the Lions. However, each of their last three wins against them has come by a margin of no greater than eight points.
Where the Crusaders have experience in winning finals, the Lions have experience in losing them.
To date, the Johannesburg team have never won Super Rugby. Saturday marks their third-straight final – and in all probability their third-straight loss.
Last year, they lost to the Crusaders 25-17 in Johannesburg. This time in Christchurch, it should be by considerably more.
It’s not that the Lions are a bad side, three finals in a row attributes to that. It’s just that the Saders are that good.
So what is the secrets to their success?
For me, there are three. Firstly, team ethic.
The Crusaders work as a unit, in everything they do – whether its attack, defence, set pieces or even broken play.
They boast a 97-per-cent ruck success rate, 85 per cent lineout success and 93 per cent in scrums and they scored the second most points in the tournament 542 (just 15 behind NSW).
But it is their defence that really stands out. They conceded the least points in the tournament, just 295 (nearly 50 points better than the next team, the Hurricanes with 343).
They were second highest on the tackle success rate with 85 per cent and had the lowest missed tackle percentage – 20.2 per cent.
In the semi-final, flanker Matt Todd alone made 21 tackles. The most of any player in the semi-finals.
He has now made 179 tackles for the season, which is the most of any Crusaders player.
ACE predicting the Crusaders to beat the Lions in #CRUvLIO due to superior team dynamics and home field advantage. Interestingly both teams have strong forwards who should essentially cancel each other out. More about the Athlete Contribution Estimator at https://t.co/Axjj91SOEp pic.twitter.com/hjx4dHIGBs— Rugby Vision (@rugbyvision) August 3, 2018
But like all the Crusaders, Todd goes about his work silently and without a lot of fuss.
He carries out his role in the team – efficiently and effectively.
When one Crusader scores a try, they all score a try. When one makes a tackle, they all make a tackle.
Winger George Bridge, who has scored 15 tries this season, does not standout more than the rest of his team-mates.
And very few, if any, of his tries have been solo efforts. He just finishes off the hard work done by the rest of the team.
Bridge’s job is also made easier by reason number two – the supremacy of the Crusaders’ forwards.
The Saders pack is stacked with All Blacks – seven of the eight – and with a Wallaby, Pete Samu on the bench.
At every facet they are superb – scrums, lineouts, mauls, rucks. They attack everything as a unit and are very rarely breached or driven backwards.
Technically, they are near perfect. Their skill levels are exemplary and their work ethic is unwavering.
HIGHLIGHTS: 2018 Super Rugby Semi-Finals: Lions v Waratahs— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) July 28, 2018
The @LionsRugbyCo bounce back from 14-0 down against the @NSWWaratahs to get the 44-26 victory and go on to face the @crusadersrugby in the Super Rugby finals. #SuperRugby #FinalsFooty #LIOvWAR pic.twitter.com/5uWMriWzj7
They have probably the best prop (Joe Moody), lock (Sam Whitelock) and loose forward (Kieran Read) in the world.
The key to the All Blacks success is winning the battle upfront first, before they unleash their devastating backline.
It is no coincidence players like fly-half Richie Mo’unga, scrum-half Bryn Hall, centres Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue, winger Bridge and full-back David Havili excel behind such a powerful pack.
Thirdly, credit must go to a former Crusaders flanker, and now head coach, Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson, who in his second year in charge looks set for his second title.
The Crusaders had all the same elements, as well as superstars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, and failed to win a title for eight long years under previous coach Todd Blackadder.
It took the former All Black Robertson to find that missing ingredient to return the Crusaders to their invincible best.
He, more than anyone, will deserve his victory breakdance after the full time whistle.
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