Cape Town - Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd believes the Lions are favourites to finish top of this year’s Super Rugby competition.
Boyd’s Hurricanes defeated the Lions 20-3 in last year’s final in Wellington.
The ‘Canes finished top of the 2016 standings, one point ahead of the second-placed Lions which earned the Kiwis a home final.
But Boyd believes it will be tough to stop the Lions this year, given the fact that the men from Johannesburg have the luxury of not having to face any New Zealand teams before the playoffs.
"The Lions scored eight tries against the Waratahs last weekend at home. They don’t play any Kiwi sides this year because of the way the draw is structured. I’d be really surprised if the Lions don’t qualify top of the competition - it means somebody’s going to have to go to Africa to win Super Rugby this year," Boyd told the Stuff.co.nz website.
The one potential downside for the Lions is the fact that they won’t play any of the trend-setting New Zealand teams before the playoffs - something Boyd believes could prove problematic.
"The upside, potentially, from a New Zealand teams' point of view - whoever has to go there - is that they wouldn't have faced the intensity of a Kiwi side."
Last year, the Stormers were spared any New Zealand opposition in the regular season and when they ran into the Chiefs in the quarter-finals, they were pummelled 60-21 at home.
Both the Lions and Hurricanes have started the 2017 tournament in impressive fashion.
The Lions beat the Cheetahs 28-25 in their first game in Bloemfontein, before thumping the Waratahs 55-36 in Johannesburg last weekend.
The Hurricanes thumped the Sunwolves 83-17 in their first game in Tokyo, before annihilating the Rebels 71-6 at home in Wellington.