Super Rugby history will be created when the Lions and Crusaders contest the 2018 final next weekend, the first time the same sides have contested successive title deciders.
The New Zealanders won 25-17 in South Africa last season and will be favoured to lift the trophy again, given their outstanding form, tradition and having home advantage in Christchurch.
Crusaders have won 16 of 18 league and knockout matches this year, and have never lost a play-offs match at home with the 30-12 semifinal win over Hurricanes Saturday their 20th straight success.
Lions also had an 18-point semifinals winning margin, coming from 14 points behind to defeat the Waratahs 44-26 in Johannesburg and reach a third consecutive Final.
“We have a chance,” insisted Lions skipper Warren Whiteley as he looked forward to what many will consider a “mission impossible” – overcoming the Crusaders in their fortress.
“It is a massive opportunity for us,” said the back-row forward who missed the final losses away to the Hurricanes and at home to the Crusaders through injuries.
“Christchurch is a great place to go for a rugby match and we will be up against a great Crusaders team.”
Waratahs skipper Bernard Foley accepted that the better team won, calling the Lions’ performance “exceptional.
“It was tough being reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes during the second half,” he said, referring to the sin-binning of substitute hooker Damien Fitzpatrick.
While the Australian was off the pitch, the Lions scored 12 unanswered points, stretching a narrow advantage to a 34-22 lead.
Jake Gordon offered the Sydney outfit a glimmer of hope when he scored four minutes from time and Foley converted to trim the deficit to 11 points.
But Courtall Skosan scored three minutes later off a cross-field kick from Elton Jantjies to wrap up the victory for the Lions.