Believe it or not, the Lions (or the old Transvaal) have won the Currie Cup on just eight occasions.
And if Joshua Strauss lifts the famous cup on Saturday evening he will follow in the footsteps of quite a few famous individuals who also triumphed in the red and white jersey.
The Lions have won seven finals, with their first triumph dating back to 1922 when they were simply awarded the cup for being the country’s best team of the year. In 1971 they also shared the cup with the old Northern Transvaal. The Lions have also lost 10 finals, the most recent in 2007, against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, and in 2002, against the Blue Bulls in Johannesburg.
The last Lions team to win a final, in 1999, was led by Hannes Strydom and coached by New Zealander Laurie Mains and they beat the Sharks in Durban 32-9. That year, like this season, they also finished top of the log and in the final – which was the swansong for Sharks legends Henry Honiball, André Joubert, Gary Teichmann and coach Ian McIntosh – the Lions ran in five tries by Chester Williams, Leon Boshoff, AJ venter and Thinus Delport, who got a brace.
While the bulk of that Lions team went on to qualify for the Super 12 semifinals the next year and in 2001, it was pretty much the end of a golden era for Lions rugby, with several trophies won and a number of star players calling it a day.
The union would then suffer a few lean years, even though they did make it into a home final in 2002, but they came up well short when they ran into a young Derick Hougaard who almost single-handedly lead his side to glory.
The next time the Lions had a sniff at winning the cup, in 2007, Eugene Eloff’s team gave up an 18-6 lead with 15 minutes remaining in Bloemfontein to lose 18-20 against the Cheetahs.
It is worth noting that the Lions who’ll be in action this weekend, against the Sharks, have one player remaining who featured in the 2002 final – Wikus van Heerden. And, so dramatically have things changed at the union in the last four years that only one player who featured against the Cheetahs four years ago will take part against the Sharks this weekend – Franco van der Merwe. Two other survivors from that agonising defeat in Bloemfontein – JC Janse van Rensburg and Cobus Grobbelaar – have to pass fitness tests this week to come into the reckoning. The rest of the team who’ll do duty on Saturday are all new players.
While the Lions have been on the winning side in seven finals, remarkably they have managed to win in front of their home fans only once – in 1950 against Western Province, 22-11.
In other home finals, they lost to Northern Transvaal 24-18 in 1987, in 1992 they lost to Natal 13-14, in 1996 they again lost to Natal 15-33 and then in 2002 they lost to the Blue Bulls.
If Strauss does manage to lead his young side to victory over the Sharks this weekend he will join a legend in the form of Hennie Muller, the Springbok No 8 of the time, as the only Lions player to lift the Currie Cup on home soil.
Lions in the Currie Cup
1922 Given trophy as best team in competition
1939 Bt WP 17-6 Cape Town
1947 Lost WP 12-16 Cape Town
1950 Bt WP 22-11 Joburg
1952 Bt Boland 11-9 Wellington
1968 Lost Northern Transvaal 3-16 Pretoria
1971 Draw Northern Transvaal 14-14 Joburg
1972 Bt Eastern Transvaal 25-19 Springs
1974 Lost Northern Transvaal 15-17 Pretoria
1986 Lost WP 9-22 Cape Town
1987 Lost Northern Transvaal 24-18 Joburg
1991 Lost Northern Transvaal 27-15 Pretoria
1992 Lost Natal 13-14 Joburg
1993 Bt Natal 21-15 Durban
1994 Bt Free State 56-33 Bloemfontein
1996 Lost Natal 15-33 Joburg
1999 Bt Sharks 33-9 Durban
2002 Lost Blue Bulls 7-31 Joburg
2007 Lost Cheetahs 18-20 Bloemfontein
1999 Lions winning team: Kobus Engelbrecht, Chester Williams, Jannie van der Walt, Wikus Venter, Thinus Delport, Hennie le Roux, Brett Johnstone, AJ Venter, Jannes Labuschagne, Walter Minnaar, Bruce Thorne, Hannes Strydom (capt), Willie Meyer, Leon Boshoff, Marius Mostert; Replacements used: Nic Moore, Eric van der Merwe, Dean Hall, Russel Winter, Mac Masina; REPLACEMENTS not used: Bennie Nortjé, James Dalton - The Star