CAPE TOWN – It’s been the season of the Lions for me.
I mean, if you look at their Super Rugby run this year, the Lions going up against the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final tomorrow is well, the perfect final (4pm kickoff).
And that’s not me saying this from the Lions or Crusaders camp (obviously not). This is just my view on the Lions, a Cape view on the Lions.
So, where do I start?
Firstly, I should probably add that I primarily cover Stormers rugby. But I just want to explain what makes the Lions so special to me.
From massive results to brilliant team and individual performances, the Johannesburg franchise have certainly won a lot of fans over this year (if they didn’t before). And, for me, it’s not that hard to understand why.
One of the main reasons I enjoy the Lions so much, is because of the way they play.
They’ve come a long way since pursuing this path, and they’ve continued to work on their craft.
From the start of the Lions’ journey, we’ve seen that there are a lot of growing pains that come with embarking on progressing your game, that journey comes with a lot of trial and error.
And if ever a team was a perfect mirror of that kind of struggle, it is the Lions. But they have also shown that it can be done, and that you don’t have to be based over in the Land of the Long White Cloud to match yourself up with the Kiwis when it comes to playing exciting rugby.
And it’s something I think all South African teams can draw from.
Now, before it gets said that the Lions didn’t encounter any New Zealand opposition in the group stages this season – I don’t think it would be unfair to say that they’ve shown their mettle when it comes to taking on the masters of rugby.
Their semi-final win over the Hurricanes last week was no isolated case. They have, in recent times (well, most recently being last year) secured knockout victories over the Highlanders and Crusaders (remember the 42-25 result, with five tries to three?).
But apart from their flair, I also love the fact that their players play with freedom, and that you can see what the Lions are all about in each and every player’s efforts.
From Elton Jantjies taking the ball to the line at pace and thrilling with his cross kicks, to Malcolm Marx’s barnstorming runs and superb offloads, to Warren Whiteley’s class when it comes to his ball-in-hand ability... there are just too many to mention.
When these guys play, you can see it. You can see that they know what the plan is, you can see that they know what they are built on, and they take to that so effortlessly that you’d swear that this is the kind of rugby they’ve been playing all their lives.
And, importantly, they aren’t just one-trick Lions – wanna challenge them in the lineouts? No problem. Think scrum-time is going to be a picnic at Ellis Park? Do your homework. They don’t just know how to run the ball from every angle. They are complete.
There’s also that unique Lions culture, that special bond between them. I don’t think there is any other team in SA that beams “team” like these men do. You can see it on the field, every time they play, it’s there, and you just can’t miss it.
And then there is Johan Ackermann. If there is anyone who deserves more praise than the Lions players, it’s this man. And to see a coach like that, a coach with that rugby mind, leave SA shores is a pity.
The Lions are also special to me because of their belief, the belief in themselves that brought them back from the dead against the Sharks and the Hurricanes in the playoffs.
So tomorrow, when the Lions take on the Crusaders in the ultimate Super Rugby battle, I hope that they stick to everything that has brought them this far. And, very importantly, I hope that they show the same kind of belief that they showed against the Hurricanes to bring Super Rugby glory back to SA.
As I said, I cover the Stormers, but I am sure all Stormers fans will agree with me that if any SA team deserves to kiss that Super Rugby trophy, it’s the Lions.