JOHANNESBURG – After starting several games “behind” the other Currie Cup teams, all the Golden Lions wanted was a spot in the last four – and a chance at getting their hands on the trophy.
Having dispatched the defending champions at the weekend, they now have their opportunity.
Swys de Bruin’s Lions fought back from winning just one of their first six matches in the competition to win a place in Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-finals, where they will take on Western Province at Newlands after edging the Cheetahs 44-17 at Ellis Park on Saturday.
In August when the Currie Cup competition got under way, the Lions’ best were still involved in the Super Rugby playoffs – unlike the other South African teams – and for the first three rounds, they had to send a second-string side into action.
That team won only once in three outings – against Griquas – and they would also lose their next three games after De Bruin took over from Johan Ackermann.
On top of that, the Lions were shorn of their best players, several of them having been picked for the Springboks’ Rugby Championship campaign.
But a good late run in the competition got them into Saturday’s “quarter-final” against the Cheetahs, which they won by out-playing the defending champions and scoring five tries to two.
De Bruin said the availability of four of the union’s Springbok players boosted the side significantly.
“The Boks played like Boks today,” said De Bruin of the returning Malcolm Marx, Ross Cronjé, Courtnall Skosan – who got two tries – and Andries Coetzee.
“It was vital getting them back. They gave the players around them a lot of confidence. The belief in the team is creeping back; I can sense it, I can feel it,” said the Lions coach. “It’s like a belief we had in Super Rugby.”
De Bruin said he was overjoyed by getting into the last four, after the team’s poor start to the competition.
“I’m very happy. From being last on the log in the first four games, to now being in the semis... it’s a great feeling. The youngsters have really come good for us, and I’m happy for them too.
“We stuck with a lot of these guys and we worked really hard, it’s a great achievement for the union, considering where we were in the first half of the competition.
“The reality is we started way behind the other teams. I’m so proud that we’re in the last four.”
The Lions will not be the favourites at Newlands, not after John Dobson’s men got the better of the Sharks in Durban and they’ll also know they hammered the Lions when they played each other the first time round in August.
On that day, the Capetonians ran in six tries to win 39-3. However, just last Sunday the Lions got up to beat Western Province 29-20, and that without their Bok stars.
The good news for De Bruin and Lions fans is that it appears the team are hitting their straps at just the right time.
They were at times breathless in getting the better of the Cheetahs; their backs especially dangerous with ball-in-hand, and with no injury worries and a man like Ruan Dreyer to also come into the mix this week, it promises to be a wonderful showdown at Newlands come Saturday.
“We’re in the semi-finals; exactly where we wanted to be. Now we can aim for the very top... anything can happen from here on,” said a delighted De Bruin on Saturday evening.