Coach Johan Ackermann will crown his successful four-year stay at the Lions with the home final he always dreamed of when his side host the Crusaders in the Super Rugby decider next weekend.
The Lions put a poor first half behind them to beat the Hurricanes 44-29 in their semi-final at Ellis Park on Saturday, setting up a grandstand finish for Ackermann before he leaves for English side Gloucester at the end of the campaign.
“It’s amazing, I’m grateful and it’s still unreal,” an emotional Ackermann told reporters.
“That’s what I always hoped for, that the day I finished here would be in front of our home fans and on our own field.
“I’m so humbled. This journey has been so special over the last few years with a special bunch of men, and they just proved it today. I just want to thank my players.”
The Lions were 22-3 down minutes before halftime and battling to contain the Hurricanes, who were feeding off the errors of their hosts.
But a try just before the break from prop Jacques van Rooyen swung the momentum in their favour, and they scored a further 34 points in the second half to end an eight-match losing streak against the Hurricanes, including in last year’s competition final.
“We felt that if we could score (before halftime), 22-10 sounds better than 22-3,” Ackermann said.
“Then halftime was quite simple. The forwards, I felt, were good in the set-phase, so we didn’t change much there. On attack we kept the same things, we just said that we were going to be a bit more direct.
“I asked the players to really lift their intensity and reset the whole scoreboard. It’s 0-0, let’s just play 40 minutes of good rugby and whatever happens, we can live with that.
“It looked like they put the first half behind them. They came out and played some great rugby in the second half. The guys showed a lot of character.”
The Lions beat the Crusaders 42-25 in the Super Rugby quarter-finals last season, but Ackermann says there is not much to be gained from his team looking back to that victory.
“The Crusaders are a quality side. Their background, their history. Looking at last year won’t help,” he said.