If the Lions had progressed to next weekend's Super Rugby final solely on their merits, former coach Laurie Mains admits he would be conflicted in his loyalties.

But the good southern man, who also coached the All Blacks to the 1995 World Cup final in South Africa, is fuming over the discrepancies that have helped the Johannesburg franchise into the title game against the Crusaders.

Namely, the inferior regular-season schedule that gifted them home advantage and the dodgy refereeing decisions that lifted them to a 44-29 semifinal win over the champion Hurricanes.

"If the competition had been a fair one, I would have split loyalties," Mains told Radio Sport Breakfast. "But because of the way the competition was run, New Zealand teams are seriously disadvantaged and I want the Crusaders to win because of that.


"Just having two games against New Zealand teams at the end of it - and with both being at home - doesn't even it up for me. [The Lions] needed to tour New Zealand and play our teams here - or some here and some back home - for it to be a fair reflection.

"They've had a pretty cruisy run ... and it was much easier to get themselves up to a real high for these final two games. Had they been through what the Kiwi teams have been through for the last three or four months, they wouldn't be in such good shape."

Mains has strong ties with South Africa, having also toured with the 1976 All Blacks, as a midweek fullback. He blamed his 1995 World Cup loss to the Springboks on the "Suzie" conspiracy theory, alleging a mysterious waitress had deliberately poisoned the NZ players on the eve of the final.

But he also guided the Lions to Super Rugby semifinals in 2000 and 2001.

Mains insisted the yellow card awarded to Hurricanes first-five Beauden Barrett for failing to clear a ruck was "totally unfair and not justified".

The Lions scored 17 points during Barrett's 10-minute absence.

"There was an all-South African panel, referee, tough judges and video ref, and in isolation, any one decision they made didn't look so bad ... except Beauden Barrett's," he told RSB.

"That was just a nonsense that he got a cynical yellow card for that. From the second he hit the ground, he was trying to get out of the way and he never put the ball between his legs.

"Everything conspired against them - I'm pretty disappointed about that. I thought we'd moved past this with our refereeing, to be honest."

With one less player in the defensive line, the Lions took full advantage.

"A man missing is like missing a straight-up tackle, and once you've missed one of those tackles and your line is breached against these good teams, you're in serious trouble," said Mains.

"Once they break one tackle, the Lions' ability to swarm into positions of support is as good as any in the competition."

But Mains also hinted that the Hurricanes had been naïve in their approach to playing at altitude, adopting a style that was perhaps too expansive early in the game, as they jumped out to a 22-3 lead.

"What we know about altitude is about 10 minutes before halftime can be a pretty tough time, and you need to lock down and control the game - not have it too fast.

"I'm not sure the Hurricanes understand what altitude does to you and then again, the last 20 minutes of the game will be pretty tough.

"[The Crusaders] have got a lot of very smart All Blacks in that team, who do know how altitude works and what you need to do, and they will have the team well briefed.

"Defensively, the Crusaders are strong enough to control the Lions up front and not let their forwards get too much go forward. Structurally, their defence is good enough to not let [the Lions] break out."