In the end they missed out by one log point meaning the Lions, recent three-time runners-up in Super Rugby, won’t play in the knockout rounds this season.
Swys de Bruin’s men failed to pick up a bonus point against the Bulls in their final round-robin game at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday and so ended their campaign in ninth position on the overall log with 35 points. With eight wins from 16 games it wasn’t enough to see them feature in this weekend’s quarter-finals.
It was a campaign that never really got going and it ended with a 48-27 hiding from the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. De Bruin’s men managed to beat only the Stormers, once at Ellis Park a few weeks ago, of the local sides; going down on the five other occasions to local opposition.
Lions boss De Bruin, who also endured a trying time in 2019 as he temporarily quit his job midway through the competition to recover from stress, said he was still immensely proud of the effort by his team and looked to the future with plenty of excitement.
“We lost 13 players going into this year’s campaign, and we tested lots of youngsters ... so I wouldn’t refer to the Lions as having gone backwards this year,” he said about the team finishing ninth, as opposed to winning the SA Conference between 2016 and 2018.
“The loss to the Bulls was bad, but I’m so excited about the future. Not too many people knew a Vincent Tshituka, a Nathan McBeth (and others) at the start of the year, but they all stood up for us, and I’m proud of them.
“Most of the players who featured here today (at Loftus) will be available for us in the Currie Cup, so that’s going to be exciting. We’ll go into that competition with lots of positives and we’ll build again.”
De Bruin congratulated the Bulls on their victory and wished them luck in taking on the Hurricanes.
“Our match (today) was closer than the result shows. And, in the end, there wasn’t much between the South African teams if you look at the points. But, well done to the Bulls.
“They’ll have a chance next week, but they must know the Hurricanes live on the offside line; I wish them well. We must now all stand behind them; I just hope they get a fair deal.
“The Bulls are a good side, too; they have a good spine, with (Schalk) Brits, (Handre) Pollard, and (Warrick) Gelant there; they’ve got good decision-makers, and are a team that stay calm under pressure. If there is one team that deserves it, it’s them.”
De Bruin, who is the national team’s attack coach, will now turn his attention to the Springboks and their bid to win the World Cup in Japan later this year.
It is expected that Cash van Rooyen, the Lions’ conditioning coach, will again take charge of the team in the Currie Cup, as he did last year. ends@jacq_west