Ruan Combrinck will help the Lions win a first ever professional Super Rugby title and also play his way back into the Springboks' Rugby Championship squad.
Combrinck has X-factor. He has all the ingredients of a Test player with the ability to influence the outcome of big occasions with a defining act. He is a very good rugby player and with greater international exposure the adjectives may be even more flattering.
Combrinck’s one colossal kick, the 55 metre angle penalty to beat the Sharks in the quarter-final, is the reason the Lions are hosting a final in front of a sell-out crowd.
But for Combrinck’s monumental kick in the 78th minute in turning a 21-20 deficit into a 23-21 victory we’d be witnessing yet another all-Kiwi Super Rugby final.
It surprised me when Springbok coach Allister Coetzee spoke so glowingly of his incumbent back three on the basis of the three-nil Test series win against France. Coetzee, who last year picked Combrinck to make his Test debut, said it was more a case of the current Bok wingers playing themselves out of the team than one on the outside playing himself in.
Coetzee’s done a lot of good things in 2017. He has introduced the right coaching specialists, appointed the inspirational Warren Whiteley to captain the Boks and picked the core of the in-form Lions as his Springboks.
What Coetzee says, in theory, is very good if you have a winning record of 90 percent over the last five years. I’d then understand the principle of a player has to play himself out. Combrinck, but for injury, would in all likelihood have been the starting right wing against France.
Raymond Rhule started and with the greatest respect to Rhule he is not in the same class as Combrinck as a Test player. Rhule has pace and enthusiasm but his all-round game can’t be compared to Combrinck’s.
Rhule is also the worst defender in Super Rugby and if you have Combrinck back to his best I don’t see why you would have to go through the exercise of seeing Rhule fail against better Test opposition than France before selecting Combrinck.
For now all Combrinck can go is play himself into contention - and that is what he will do against a Crusaders team decidedly more potent than the feeble French national side that pitched up in South Africa fatigued, finished and disinterested after a domestic season in which many played in excess of 40 games.
Combrinck, in the last five weeks and lock Franco Mostert (all season) have been brilliant for the Lions. The duo always produce a moment that is decisive in the flow, momentum or outcome of a game.
Combrinck creates scoring opportunities and Mostert is the best poacher of opposition lineout ball in the competition. He also has the most tireless work ethic and his energy in contact is infectious.
There are so many other good players in the Lions team. Malcolm Marx is an emerging international presence, the front row is powerful and Jaco Kriel and Ross Cronje continue to excel as a matter of course.
The Crusaders, a champion team for so long, won’t beat the quality of these Lions, the travel factor, fatigue from altitude and the atmosphere of a biased and patriotic capacity Ellis Park crowd.
For the Crusaders to win the Lions would have to implode mentally because the occasion would prove too big.
I don’t see that happening. There’s too much confidence and there’s also too much awareness that a failure to play their natural game would lead to a performance that should have seen them knocked out of the competition in the quarter-finals against the Sharks.
The Lions will look to attack and score tries, which is why they have such a good record against the Kiwi teams in the last two seasons. The Lions have scored 40 or more points against Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes in their last three play-off matches at Ellis Park and last year beat the Blues 43-5 at Ellis Park.
The Lions are good enough to score 40-plus points against the Crusaders, despite the impressive defensive record of the Crusaders in 2017.
The Crusaders of 2017 are the best Crusaders team for some time but still not good enough to come to Ellis Park and score 45 points to beat the Lions.
I’ve got the Lions to win, not because of referee bias or because any lack of quality among the Crusaders. I’ve got them to win because, at home, over the past two seasons, the Lions have been the best team in the competition.
I’ve also got Combrinck to force a rethink of Coetzee’s national selection policy and actually play himself into the Rugby Championship run-on team for the August 19 opener against Argentina in Port Elizabeth.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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