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[OPINION] Super Rugby 2018: Whirlwind from start to finish

The 2018 Super Rugby season was one of massive highs and dreadful lows for so many.

Injuries, heartbreak, records and debuts… this season had them all.

Every team in the competition enters the season in February looking to make history, to win their first title, win consecutive titles, or perhaps just secure their highest placed finish in their franchise’s history.

Heading into the competition, 2017’s finalists the Lions and Crusaders had the spotlight firmly fixed on them. Quite ironic, or predictable some might say, that the very same two teams would meet once again in the final 12 months later. It was the first time in Super Rugby history that consecutive finals were contested by the same teams.

When EWNSport was invited by Vodacom to join them on the #RedFinalTour, the idea of covering a Super Rugby final in Christchurch was one that was too appetising to pass on. What followed was a seven-day whirlwind trip that crossed multiple time zones, polar opposite weather conditions and an experience of a lifetime. I had never been to either Australia or New Zealand before, but figured I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Australia is Bloemfontein by sea and New Zealand is Lord of the Rings country. Sorted.

Instead, what I found was a melting pot of cultures, colours and experiences, that ranged from being invited to eat dinner at the Crusaders Club on match day, watching the Crusaders Horsemen canter around the AMI Stadium, exploring Sydney on the back of a Harley Davidson and seeing the Sydney Opera House up close from a speedboat in the harbour.

I have worked very closely with the Lions for almost a decade. I have watched star players come and go, young players develop into Springboks and multiple sponsor changes, but one feeling has remained consistent, and that is one of family and humility.

There are few sportsmen in South Africa as humble as Warren Whiteley, and despite leading his team to a third consecutive Super Rugby final, winning the SA Conference again, and seeing his team mates make up the spine of the current SA Rugby set up, insists that he and his teammates have “achieved nothing yet”. It’s that drive for perfection, that deserves to always achieve more that has turned them into the best union in the country.

Emotionally, of course, it will be tough for them to bounce back from another final loss, but with the talent in their camp and the mentality shared among players and management, it’s easy to predict that they will once again feature heavily at the back end of the 2019 competition.

Marc Lewis is a senior sports reporter and host of Sports Talk. Follow him on Twitter @MarcLewisZA

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