Super Rugby

5 talking points: Super Rugby final

Kwagga Smith takes out David Havili (Gallo Images)
Kwagga Smith takes out David Havili (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after the 2017 Super Rugby final between the Lions and Crusaders:

1. Kwagga sees red

The 2017 Super Rugby final will forever be remembered for Kwagga Smith’s red card late in the first half.

The Lions flanker received his marching orders for clattering into Crusaders fullback David Havili, who had jumped for a high ball.

It was the correct decision and the Lions can have no complaints.

Havili had jumped for the ball and had all the rights.

The onus was on Smith, who did not contest the ball, to make sure he did not make contact with the player in the air.

Smith got his timing horribly wrong and should either have jumped to contest the ball or waited for Havili to get to ground before tackling him - he did neither and deserved to see red.

2. Crusaders make history

The Crusaders’ victory was the first time that a team had crossed the Indian Ocean to win a Super Rugby final.

It was their eighth Super Rugby title - and first since 2008 - and they are well clear of the second-placed Blues and Bulls, who both boast three titles.

It was also the men from Christchurch’s first win in a knockout game on the Highveld, having lost 2007, 2009 and 2010 semi-finals to the Bulls, as well as last year’s quarter-final to the Lions.

Saturday’s final was also only the sixth time that the away team had won in 22 Super Rugby finals - four of those away win feats were achieved by the ‘Saders.

3. Altitude/jet lag factor is real!

In the build-up to the final at Ellis Park there were question marks over whether the Crusaders would be able to overcome playing at altitude and shake off jet lag, having travelled 13 194kms from Christchurch to Johannesburg.

The Hurricanes ran out of puff late in their semi-final against the Lions and there were fears from Kiwi fans that the same fate awaited the Crusaders.

Looking at how Saturday’s final ended, it’s clear to me that the Crusaders were jaded towards the end.

The 14-man Lions had clawed their way back from a 25-3 deficit to get within two scores of winning and at the end it seemed like the visitors were the ones playing with a man down.

A 15 v 15 contest might well have yielded a different result...

4. End of an era for Lions?

Saturday’s final was the last game in charge for Lions coach Johan Ackermann, who is off to Gloucester in England.

It was not the send-off "Ackers" would have wanted but he deserves credit for turning around the fortunes of a team that was in the doldrums and not even playing in the competition four years ago.

He took a bunch of nobodies and turned them into championship contenders.

The brotherhood at the Lions has been evident throughout but I can’t help feel this could be the end of an era at Ellis Park.

A few players are leaving - Faf de Klerk’s departure has been known for a while and on Sunday Akker van der Merwe announced he is heading to the Sharks.

There are also rumours that Ruan Ackermann could join his dad at Gloucester and it will come as no surprise if a few others follow suit.

Swys de Bruin will take over as head coach and will no doubt continue the process with the same values and methods installed by Ackermann, but he’ll have a challenge to match the exploits of his predecessor.

5. Does a record crowd deserve a spoiled contest?

Following Smith’s sending-off there were calls for red cards to be scrapped in favour of a player copping punishment after a match.

Nick Mallett made an interesting point in the SuperSport studio when suggested that a red-carded player should be replaced by another player after 10 minutes, ensuring teams do not play the majority of a match with 14 men.

A record crowd (62 000) flocked to Ellis Park on Saturday and those fans deserved a fair contest.

I stand by my view that Smith deserved his red card, but perhaps this rule change should be considered, especially for accidental red card offences - as was the case with Smith.

It could go a long way to ensuring fans' experience is likely not “spoiled”.

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