Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Bad weather condemned Lions to loss

Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara makes a tackle on Lions wing Ruan Combrinck during the 2016 Investec Super Rugby final at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara makes a tackle on Lions wing Ruan Combrinck during the 2016 Investec Super Rugby final at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

This Super Rugby final was always going to be difficult for a Lions team who effectively threw away their chance to host it by sending a weakened team to Buenos Aires for their final round-robin match.

They faced abysmal weather in Wellington and there's no way they would be used to that. At their Ellis Park home in Johannesburg, the match-up between these two teams could have been different. They are used to dry, fine conditions, and for them to have to travel across the Indian Ocean to wet and windy Wellington meant the final was a foregone conclusion. Yes, they have played well in New Zealand this season, but round-robin play is very different to a final.

Three weeks in a row, the weather played its part for the hosts. Three weeks ago against the Sharks, there were, perhaps appropriately, near hurricane conditions. Against the Chiefs, the conditions were difficult, though not quite as bad.

On Saturday, they were just atrocious. You only needed a brief look at the post-match presentations on television to see the players' teeth chattering. It was windy, wet and freezing cold, and that was never going to suit the Lions.

The Hurricanes adapted to the conditions brilliantly. They have been excellent in all their playoff matches this season, combining a brilliant game plan with the ability to make the most of their opportunities. But I concur with others who have commented about their defence - that's how Chris Boyd and Co won their title. They frustrated the Lions into kicking the ball away because they ran out of ideas about how to breach a defence which hasn't conceded a try since the first half of their last round-robin match.

The Lions have been dangerous all year, but looked inept during the final. You'd be scratching your head trying to recall their line breaks and this year, their attack has been all about breaking the line and building points.

Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies had few options and got frustrated. As a result, their centres and outsides didn't feature because they couldn't get the ball there. The Hurricanes have done that to some very good sides in recent weeks, and as much as they've been analysed, no team has come up with any answers.

I said to Dane Coles the day before the final, 'boy, it's been a pretty good run, it must be nice to be at home', and he said, remarking on how they went from seventh to first after the final round, 'everything fell into place for us, it panned out beautifully'.

The Hurricanes were excellent last year and were pipped at the post by a Highlanders team determined to prove everyone wrong. They started poorly this year but have won eight in a row, a record for any Hurricanes team. For them to finally win a title means every Kiwi team has, and that's great for New Zealand rugby.

It must have hurt last year to lose the final and some significant players. But they have rebuilt brilliantly and will be a threat again next year.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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