Meet the Lions the Crusaders have to keep quiet to win Super Rugby title

Halfback Ross Cronje is a key man for the Lions with his running game and distribution.
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Halfback Ross Cronje is a key man for the Lions with his running game and distribution.

OPINION: Forget the referee, the Lions have enough ability in their own right to cause the Crusaders problems.

Like all good South African sides they thrive on momentum. The collisions on the gain-line will decide the final in Johannesburg: it's that simple. 

The Crusaders' defence has been brilliant this season and a credit to coach Scott Robertson.

Loosehead prop Jacques van Rooyen is a powerful ball carrier.
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Loosehead prop Jacques van Rooyen is a powerful ball carrier.

They will need all their aggression to stop the Lions and there are five players in particular - certainly not all household names - who loom as threats to Sam Whitelock and co bringing that Super Rugby title back to Christchurch. 

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Andries Ferreira brings plenty of grunt to the second row.
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Andries Ferreira brings plenty of grunt to the second row.

Lions No 10 Elton Jantjes will have a central role in the final but I think their game really starts with No 9 Ross Cronje. The halfback has a running game but his real strength is his passing and ability to pick out the big ball-runners the Lions use to get rolling.

Cronje has usurped Faf de Klerk in both the Lions and Springboks' pecking order and his clean pass and ability to select the right option is the reason why.

Loose-head Jacques van Rooyen is one of the bruising forwards who benefits from Cronje's delivery. Van Rooyen is something of a late bloomer but he is a big carrier for the Lions and loves steaming onto the ball close to the line. It is not subtle but it is very hard to stop. He can scrum a bit, too. I had thought the serious neck injury to tighthead Julian Redelinghuys might harm the Lions set-piece this year but they have been destructive at times.

Lions No 8 Ruan Ackermann has a simple philosophy - run over people.
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Lions No 8 Ruan Ackermann has a simple philosophy - run over people.

Burly lock Andries Ferreira is another who fits the the 'unfashionable but effective' label. He is listed at 122kg and he uses all of that weight as a battering ram in the middle of the field. Don't expect any Scott Barrett-style offloads but he brings a guarantee of maximum effort and a lot of grunt.

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The third player in the pack who the Lions look to for some go-forward is No 8 Ruan Ackermann. The coach's son has a huge role to play in the back row because he is the closest thing they have to an enforcer among the loose forwards, and he is certainly the heaviest ball carrier.

His game is built on straightforward physical domination and it is something he does well. Don't expect to see him ranging wide a la Kieran Read, but do expect him to butt heads with the likes of Jordan Taufua as he tries to make the hard yards.     

Lions No 12 Harold Vorster runs intelligent lines in the midfield.
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Lions No 12 Harold Vorster runs intelligent lines in the midfield.

In the backs the player I really like is No 12 Harold Vorster. He replaced Rohan Janse van Rensburg earlier in the season after the Springbok picked up an injury and the Lions did not miss a beat.

He cannot offer the same bruising physicality as Janse van Rensburg and his thunder thighs but he has put his own stamp on the back line because he probably runs better angles. Look for him to operate in tandem with Cronje as the Lions look for gaps one or two out from the ruck. Vorster will hit the line hard and straight and with Janse van Rensburg now back on the bench the Lions have great midfield options over the 80 minutes.

The Lions are an excellent side - I have no doubt the Crusaders will respect that and shut their ears to the debate around the referees. They will have to be at their absolute best to secure what would be an outstanding win. 

 - Stuff

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