Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Don't count out the Lions

Warren Whiteley of the Lions celebrates with teammate Franco Mostert. Photo / Getty
Warren Whiteley of the Lions celebrates with teammate Franco Mostert. Photo / Getty

Given the quality of rugby they have played since February, the prevailing view is that a New Zealand team will win Super Rugby. That's strengthened by the fact three of the four teams left are from New Zealand and if the Hurricanes win on Saturday night, the final will be in Wellington.

But the Lions aren't facing hopeless odds. They are a fair to middling chance to win their maiden title. They certainly shouldn't be dismissed as they have the players, the game and the experience to win. And with a bit of luck, they could even have the draw on their side.

The gamble coach Johan Ackermann took in not sending his top side to Buenos Aires for the final conference game is starting to look wiser than anyone realised.

Ackermann gambled that his fresh troops would be too good for whatever Kiwi team had to trek to Africa for the quarter-final.

He was right. He also gambled that if a New Zealand team finished with the number one seeding, they would end up facing a Kiwi team in the semifinal.

He was right and no doubt part of his thinking, too, was that there would be a reasonable chance of there being an upset.

We'll have to wait to see if he's right about that, but a Chiefs' victory at the Cake Tin is entirely possible.

They beat the Hurricanes earlier in the season, albeit by a whisker and on the back of some outrageous luck. But they did win and just because they rode their luck on that occasion, it doesn't mean they can't win again in the capital.

The Chiefs were impressive in beating the Stormers and with Seta Tamanivalu likely to return, they will have better shape to their midfield than they did in Cape Town.
And while it will be a blow if they lose Sam Cane, they will miss him less than the Hurricanes are going to miss Dane Coles.

A Chiefs victory and the final could be at Ellis Park - which is why the Lions have to be seen as a contender.

"They beat the Chiefs on tour [36-32 in round two] and once they got back to South Africa they've gone from strength to strength," Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said. "Unlike the other South African teams, they play a running game of football, they can maul, they can scrum. They've got a total game."

The Highlanders know that well because they encountered it in Johannesburg last year when they saw a healthy halftime lead disappear and the Lions storm back for what was a relatively comfortable win in the end.

- NZ Herald

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