Lions fans during the Super Rugby Semi final match between Lions and Hurricanes at the Ellis Park. Picture: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

A final, at Ellis Park. Yes, a final, at Ellis Park, against the most successful franchise in the history of Super Rugby. That is the scale of the reward that Johan Ackermann’s men will woke up to on Sunday morning.

Back these Lions, and all who have trudged through filthy piles of poo to get them to this point. These are champagne days, rampant days of joy, after years of pain.

Those who have worn and sworn at the battered red jumper, before the flood of latest sponsors and the current wave of media hysteria, will tell you how deep and dark those 2010 days were.

Days where an entire season came and went, and not one win was registered to soothe the pain in the stands. Days when nearly 600 points were leaked by the defence that now prides itself on being stingy, and laying bodies on trenches.

Days when it was easier to make like Peter and deny allegiance thrice - as the Pretoria cock crowed loudly - rather than admit that your Saturday staple was to wallow into your poison of choice, lamenting the fool that suggested you ‘Follow the Pride’.

The manner of the Lions’ response to being down at half-time, to the best game-breaking side in the competition, was maturity personified.

It spoke of a team that knew that their road, long and arduous as it has been, wasn’t meant to end at the semi-final stage.

It was certainly not meant to end at a half-full stadium, an audience that didn’t do justice to the feast that this team has bestowed upon its patrons. And not just this season, either, because they were the nearly men last term.

Somehow, South African fans need to rediscover their passion to fill out stadiums. It is these blue (make that red, perhaps) ribbon occasions that demand every seat has a bum occupying it, because history beckons for the former laughing stock of South African rugby this coming Saturday.

They have been a Cinderella and a Rocky Balboa script rolled into one marauding machine, and one that has reminded the cynics that everything goes in cycles in the oval ball game. 

In 2010, it was the Bulls who couldn’t put a hoof wrong as, led by blood brothers Victor and Bakkies, they sauntered into Soweto and shisa’d their own slice of history.

Those days seem forever ago, as the roar from the other side of the Jukskei has withered into a whimper, and the Lions have risen from the ashes. Nothing, good or bad, lasts forever, and the Lions will do well to enjoy this week, and all it entails.

If our match-day crowds could be guaranteed, this would have been a terrific opportunity for the Lions to take the Crusaders into the heart of Soweto again, and fill up the biggest venue in the land.

Alas, they will have to content themselves with trying to cram as many as they can into Ellis Park.

They deserve a full house, even if it is the first and last of the season. They deserve to be welcomed by a rage of red passion, an atmosphere worth seven points on its own.

The personal Lions’ narratives are strewn across Ellis Park like broken Kiwi dreams, and they all have one final chapter to scribe over the next week. The sincere goodbyes to men who will chart fresh paths overseas can reach a natural end now.

So, go and say thanks to Oom Johan and company. Do it in person, at what should be a fortress.

They have earned it, the hard way.


Sunday Tribune

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