All you need to know: Hurricanes vs Lions Super Rugby Final

By Alex McLeod

Matt Proctor of the Hurricanes makes a break during the Hurricanes' win over the Lions earlier in the season. Photo / Getty Images
Matt Proctor of the Hurricanes makes a break during the Hurricanes' win over the Lions earlier in the season. Photo / Getty Images

Following two convincing back-to-back playoff wins by the top two sides in the 2016 edition of Super Rugby, we've collected all the vital information you need to know ahead of the biggest Super Rugby match of the year: the Super Rugby final between the Hurricanes and the Lions.

Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 7:35pm kick-off

The biggest match on the Super Rugby calendar in the inaugural season of an 18-team Super Rugby competition will be competed between the Hurricanes and the Lions, two teams vying to claim their maiden competition title.

Since Super Rugby's inception in 1996, the Hurricanes have previously featured in two finals, both of which they've been unsuccessful in.

The first of these came in 2006, where they played the Crusaders at Christchurch's Jade Stadium, as it was known at the time, in the infamous 'fog final'.

Horrifically thick fog contributed to a 19-12 victory to the Crusaders, with a try to All Black midfielder Casey Laulala being the difference between the two sides that night.

It was a nine-year wait before the Hurricanes managed to earn themselves another crack at winning a Super Rugby final, where they met the Highlanders at a sold-out Westpac Stadium. Much like tonight, the 2015 final was a battle between two sides looking to win their first title since the birth of the Super Rugby competition.

Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, it was the Dunedin-based side who claimed their one and only Super Rugby title, with heroic performances from all players throughout the team resulting in the southerners causing a 21-14 upset victory and an emotional send-off for franchise legend Nasi Manu.

Unlike the Hurricanes, the Johannesburg-based Lions have never featured in a Super Rugby final, although they have played in back-to-back semi-finals under the guidance of former All Blacks and Highlanders coach Laurie Mains in the former Super 12 competition.

Under their former team name of the Cats, the franchise clawed their way to playoff spots in the 2000 and 2001 campaigns, only to fall short 28-5 to the Brumbies in Canberra, and 30-12 to the Sharks in Durban.

Their 2016 campaign marks not just the South African-based side's first grand final appearance, but also their first ever win in a Super Rugby playoff, a feat that was achieved a fortnight ago at their fortress Ellis Park, where they sunk the Crusaders 42-25.

A consecutive playoff victory over the reigning champion Highlanders last week leaves the South Africans on the brink of a somewhat underhyped comeback from the brink of extinction.

Between 1996 and 2012, the Lions had finished 14 of their 17 seasons in Super Rugby occupying one of the bottom three positions on the table, six of which they finished rock bottom, and in 2010, they set the Super Rugby record for the worst season of all-time, finishing with 0 wins from 13 matches.

The South African Rugby Union took action, and voted for the Lions to be relegated for the 2013 edition of Super Rugby, who were replaced by the awfully dreadful Southern Kings.

Promoted back into the competition from 2014, the Lions haven't looked back under the tutelage of Johan Ackermann, who has forced the franchise into a grand final appearance just three years after their expulsion from the competition, an achievement worthy of high praise.

Line ups:

Only one change to either starting XV has been made for tonight's showpiece match, with Lions captain Warren Whiteley returning from injury to take part in his team's first ever final.

In turn, this means Ruan Ackermann, who started in last weekend's 42-30 semi-final win over the Highlanders, drops to the bench in place for Steph de Witt, while Ross Cronje replaces Dillon Smit in the reserves as the replacement halfback.

The Hurricanes retain their starting XV from last weekend's 25-9 semi-final victory over the Chiefs, with captain Dane Coles again bracketed with youngster Ricky Ricctelli at hooker due to injury for the second week running.

This means that Leni Apisai has been bracketed with Riccitelli on the bench as reserve hooker, while prop Reggie Goodes has been bracketed on the bench alongside Mike Kainga, with concussion troubles keeping his level of participation in the final uncertain until the last minute.

Loose forward Callum Gibbins has also been bracketed alongside USA international Tony Lamborn on the bench due to injury concerns.

All Black wing Julian Savea remains benched for the final, despite having been named in the All Blacks' Rugby Championship squad earlier in the week.

Hurricanes: James Marshall, Cory Jane, Matt Proctor, Willis Halaholo, Jason Woodward, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara (vc), Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Michael Fatialofa, Vaea Fifita, Ben May, Dane Coles (c)/Ricky Riccitelli, Loni Uhila

Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli/Leni Apisai, Chris Eves, Reggie Goodes/Michael Kainga, Mark Abbott, Callum Gibbins/Tony Lamborn, Jamison Gibson-Park, Vince Aso, Julian Savea.

Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Courtnal Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (c), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith

Reserves: Armand Van Der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Jacques Van Rooyen, Lourens Erasmus, Ruan Ackermann, Ross Cronje, Howard Mnisi, Jaco Van Der Walt.

Statistics:

There are an overwhelming number of statistics in favour of the Hurricanes, indicating why they are the favourites to take their maiden Super Rugby title tonight.

Tonight's meeting will be the 18th between the two franchises, with the Hurricanes having won 14 of the 17 previous clashes between the sides, including a seven-match unbeaten streak, dating back to 2008.

The average scoreline between the two sides is 31-23 in favour of the Wellingtonians, while the last time they lost in Wellington to a South African side was four years ago in March 2012 to the Cheetahs.

Unfortunately for the Lions, who travelled from Johannesburg to Wellington this week for the final, teams are 0-15 in playoff games hosted in New Zealand after playing in South Africa the week before. It has already happened twice in the past two weeks, with the Sharks and the Chiefs both falling to the Hurricanes in Wellington after having matches in the Republic the week beforehand.

In addition to this, no South African side has ever won a playoff match in New Zealand, while South African sides are 2 from 16 away from home in playoff matches.

There is some positivity for the Lions, however, as they currently lead the competition in tries scored (a record-breaking 81), meters gained (9264), and defenders beaten (467), while Rohan Janse van Rensburg (10) and Courtnall Skosan (9) could both overtake Israel Folau (11) as leading tryscorer in this seasons Super Rugby campaign if they cross the chalk tonight.

Odds:

The TAB has the home side as strong favourites to take home their first ever Super Rugby title, paying out at $1.35 for a Hurricanes win, while the travelling Lions are considered to have an outside chances, paying out at $3.15.

How to follow:

Join us for a live blog of the action from after 7.00pm. Radio Sport will also be covering the game live.

- NZ Herald

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