History favors home teams in Super Rugby semis
History and statistics strongly suggest the Super Rugby semifinals on Saturday between the Crusaders and Hurricanes and Lions and New South Wales Waratahs will produce a repeat of last year's final between the Crusaders and the Lions.
Home advantage has proven over the history of the tournament to be a key factor in playoff matches.
The clash in Christchurch between defending champions the Crusaders and the Wellington-based Hurricanes will be the 12th all-New Zealand semifinal in Super Rugby history. In an ominous warning to the Hurricanes, all 11 previous derby semifinals have been won by the home team.
The Crusaders, attempting to win Super Rugby for the ninth time and the second year in a row, have played in the semifinals 17 times, advancing to 13 finals.
The Hurricanes discarded their reputation as the tournament's most notable under-achievers when they won the title for the first time in 2016 after reaching the final for the third time and the second consecutive year.
The Lions will try to reach the final for the third year in a row after losing to the Hurricanes 20-3 in Wellington in 2016, and the Crusaders 25-17 in Johannesburg last year.
While the Waratahs have won 15 of their 20 meetings with the Lions, three of the Lions' five wins have come in their latest matches. The Waratahs haven't won a playoff away from home in five attempts and no Australian team has won a semifinal in South Africa.
The Lions have won five of six playoff matches at Johannesburg's Ellis Park and are attempting to become only the fourth team after the Crusaders, ACT Brumbies, and Blues to reach the final in three consecutive years.
The Crusaders won the title last year for the first time since 2008 and in their first season under coach and former player Scott Robertson. They are heavily favored to win again after finishing the regular season with a 14-2 record while the Hurricanes were 11-5, the Waratahs 10-5 with one draw, and the Lions 9-7.
The defending champs easily brushed aside the Durban-based Sharks 40-10 in last weekend's quarterfinals, though they played well below their best. That win extended their season winning streak to 13 games, three short of the franchise record.
The Hurricanes have become a bogey team for the Crusaders in recent years, winning eight of their last 12 meetings but the Crusaders have won all four previous playoff matches between them. They have never lost a playoff match at home, winning 19, and their last loss in any match at home came 18 matches ago, to the Hurricanes in 2016.
The Crusaders will be at full strength with the return of All Blacks prop Joe Moody. Winger Seta Tamanivalu has been cleared to play after suffering a head injury last weekend.
"To host a semifinal in front of our fans adds another level of anticipation and pride to the mix," Roberston said.
The Hurricanes have an unchanged lineup. Winger Ben Lam has scored 15 tries this season and is in a four-way tie for the Super Rugby season record.
The Waratahs, champions in 2014, head into their semifinal with some confidence of breaking their South African duck after a stirring, comeback victory over the Highlanders last weekend. Trailing 23-6, the Waratahs rallied with three second-half tries.
Both teams have made one change to their lineups; Lourens Erasmus will start at blindside flanker for the Lions in place of Cyle Brink who has an arm injury, and Tolu Latu will start for the Waratahs at hooker.
The Lions have the best lineout in Super Rugby and are the most disciplined team, conceding only one yellow card in 2018.
"This match will be a very physical encounter, particularly with the breakdown and scrum being key battlegrounds," Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said. "We are expecting a real set-piece battle so we need to be good in this area to complete with the Lions' scrum and lineout."