Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd tips the Lions to top the Super Rugby standings this year

The 2017 Super Rugby title is the Lions' to lose.

That's the assessment of Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd, whose side defeated the Lions in last year's decider.

Boyd doesn't base this year's verdict on a belief that the Lions are far and away the best team in the competition. More that the South African side's soft draw means they should enjoy a home playoff run in Johannesburg.

The Stormers burgled their way into a home quarterfinal, thanks in part to no clashes with any New Zealand franchises. Now it's the Lions' turn.

"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 said on Wednesday.

After starting the defence of the title with an 83-17 win over the Sunwolves, then Saturday's 71-6 thrashing of the Rebels, the Hurricanes now face derbies against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday before hosting the Highlanders.

Both games promise to be brutal, underlining how the intensity and quality of football in the New Zealand conference is far better than the rest of the competition can muster.

Boyd's statement about the Lions sounded pretty bold, although not to him.

"It depends whether that prediction's based on the quality of the side or the vagaries of the draw," he said.

"I think the Lions are a really good side and we learnt some lessons after [20]15, when we lost the final, and took it into [20]16. They were finalists in 16 and they probably learnt some lessons on their finals' playoffs series.

"They'll go under the radar from a New Zealand point of view, because none of the New Zealand sides are going to play them, but I think they're going to be really tough to play at the end.

"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."

The Hurricanes beat the Lions 20-3 in last year's final in Wellington, having gone to Johannesburg earlier in the season and won 50-17. That might indicate playing at Ellis Park isn't so tough, but Boyd wasn't inclined to pick that point up and run with it.

"I think it was a combination of both [the Hurricanes playing exceptionally well and the Lions being slightly flat]. We took them by surprise," said Boyd.

"That was when we changed the way we played the game [and] we dealt them a set of cards that they weren't expecting and [they] probably took a little bit too long to adjust to it. It was just one of those games.

"We got two or three fairly opportunist tries and the scoreboard pressure mounted and they chased the game [and] it didn't work for them. It was one of those games that got away; it wasn't really as total [a hiding] as the score indicated."


Photo: Getty Images SYDNEY SESHIBEDI (The Lions will never get a better chance to win the Super Rugby title).