Crusaders v Lions: Crusaders by 20
Nothing, surely, can stop the Crusaders winning their record-extending ninth Super Rugby title and first in a home final since 2008.
They only need to play to form for most, not all, of the match and that is not being disrespectful to the Lions, about whom all and sundry have been talking up and making polite noises.
Yes, the Joburg franchise is into its third straight decider and proved itself as the top team, just, in the South African conference.
But they flew into Christchurch late, which to my non-medical mind gives them less time to recover from jetlag, they have benched speedy wing Aphiwe Dyantyi, and there are question marks about the capability of No 10 Elton Jantjies, a mercurial performer who is not robust on the tackle.
While the forwards are clearly the Lions’ strength, and they drive well and present a solid set-piece, they will be running into an All Blacks pack plus Heiden Bedwell-Curtis.
Where will the Crusaders cede? Not in the loose, despite the predations of Malcolm Marx and the tireless Kwagga Smith – the flanker keen to make amends for a red card in the 2017 final.
While the Lions outsides have pace in abundance, they will not have the Joburg sun on their backs, so will be busy instead defusing bombs from Richie Mo’unga and attempting to halt midfield forays from Jack Goodhue.
If they relax for a moment on the outside channels, George Bridge or David Havili will open them up.
The Crusaders have not limped home this season. On the contrary, they have played their best footy since the June break, so there is no reason to think that replacement loose forward and Wallaby international Pete Samu will not win an extraordinary 29th consecutive Super Rugby match before he crosses the Tasman for good.
There will, alas, be no fond farewell for Wyatt Crockett, again omitted from the match-day 23.
That is a good sign, in that coach Scott Robertson is thinking clearly. Tough on Crockett, but that’s what happens when a franchise carries three All Blacks loosehead props, a situation that should not really be allowed to happen if at all possible.
The Lions will breathe early fire, but how are they going to be the first team since the 2016 Hurricanes to defeat the Crusaders at their makeshift stadium? The short answer is they are not. The Crusaders will be too good and too classy. Again.