Feel-good factor: Lions, Hurricanes chase Super Rugby title

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) " The Super Rugby final between New Zealand's Hurricanes and South Africa's Lions on Saturday brings together two teams recently transformed by inspirational coaches, ensuring that whoever wins, the match will have a feel-good factor.

The Johannesburg-based Lions have been reborn under the coaching of Johan Ackermann, a former Springboks lock who, in just two seasons, has turned the tournament's easy-beats into deserved finalists.

The Wellington-based Hurricanes, hosting the final for the second year in succession, had finished mid-table or below in the four years before Chris Boyd took over as head coach last year. Under Boyd they have finished atop the championship table two seasons running.

Both teams are chasing their first Super Rugby title. The Hurricanes will be playing in their third final, having lost the final in 2006 and last year.

The Hurricanes started the season badly with a 52-10 loss to the ACT Brumbies, but soon hit their stride and won 11 of 13 games to snatch first place from the Lions in the last round of the regular season.

"After round one and two if someone had said we'd get to another final at home we probably would have had a bit of a laugh about it," Boyd said.

"The turnaround has been pretty good and we've got a bit of momentum going now which is nice.

"The pain from last year's final is still with us and we'll be throwing the kitchen sink at it on Saturday."

The Lions will be playing in a final for the first time. In their various incarnations as Transvaal, Gauteng, the Golden Cats, the Cats and the Lions, they reached the semifinals twice.

In the 21 years of Super Rugby the Lions had rarely risen far from the bottom of the table. In the decade before Ackermann took over, their best result was an eighth of 14 teams.

Ackermann guided them to 12th place in the 15-team competition in 2014, to eighth place last year and to victory in the South African conference this year. He has turned the Lions into one of the best attacking teams in Super Rugby: their try-scoring record this season matches the Hurricanes who have often been regarded as Super Rugby's most enterprising team.

The Lions' bid to become the first South African team to win a final outside South Africa will rely heavily on running the ball.

But they may be impeded in that by weather conditions in Wellington which are forecast to be cold, wet and windy.

Ackermann said tournament organizers should have considered playing Saturday's match in the daytime to avoid the worst of the Wellington winter.

"Maybe it would have been better for this kind of game, a final, to have it a bit earlier so you are guaranteed a bit more dry weather," he said. "The weather combined with the pressure of playing in a final, all those things can have an influence on the game."

The Hurricanes have bracketed injured captain Dane Coles in an otherwise unchanged starting lineup for Saturday's match. Coles missed last weekend's semifinal because of a rib injury and remains an unlikely starter in the final. All Blacks winger Julian Savea will again start from the bench as he battles a loss of form.

Flyhalves Beauden Barrett for the Hurricanes and Elton Jantjies for the Lions will be key figures, having been probably the best players in the tournament this year. Both scored tries in their teams' semifinal wins: Barrett among 15 points for the Hurricanes and Jantjies among 22 points for the Lions.

"It's all about the team for me, making sure I do my job well for the team," Jantjies said. "The opportunities will present themselves but Beauden is playing good rugby at the moment."

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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