JOHANNESBURG - One has to have won Super Rugby to know what it takes. And former Springbok and Bulls captain Victor Matfield believes the Lions can go all the way to win the competition.
Matfield, the only man to lead a South African franchise to Super Rugby glory in the professional era three times (2007, 2009, 2010) with the Bulls, feels that the return from injury of Lions captain Warren Whiteley will bring about confidence to the side. “The Lions are in a position to win this competition. With Warren (Whiteley) back they will be on an upward curve. I think Warren will bring them a lot of confidence and that is what they need towin this competition,” Matfield said at a Laureus Sport for Good Foundation breakfast in Pretoria on Tuesday.
If the defending champions and tournament favourites the Crusaders can be stopped before the final then Matfield is believes the trophy is for the Lions to lose. Former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers concurred with Matfield. “Playing at home is a great opportunity for the Lions as is getting that second spot They might not have to play a New Zealand side in the semi-final. Maybe in that semi-final a Chiefs or Hurricanes will beat the Crusaders and we can have a final at Ellis Park and the Lions can still win this," De Villiers said.
“I think last year's Lions team was performing more consistently and better than this year's one. But it is when it counts and how you can up the performance, implement better and get good results. We are in play-off rugby now and you would be hoping they have the ability to up those performances. They have quality players and certainly with Warren back it adds a lot of value to the team, not only from playing but through leadership. Last year the final was very disappointing for them and hopefully they will use that as motivation going through these play-offs. If they win the quarterfinals (against the Jaguares) they will get either the Waratahs or Highlanders in the semi-finals which will definitely be an easier semi-final and then who knows in the final."
Matfield, though, is not as optimistic for the Sharks' venture to New Zealand where they will face the rampant Crusaders. The Sharks may have played their best rugby against New Zealand sides this season but Matfield believes that the strenuous travel schedule to the Land of the Long White Cloud could just be their undoing. “I think it is going to be very difficult for the Sharks. But they have played well against the New Zealand teams. They can really stand up to New Zealand sides but travelling over we’ve seen in this competition is very tough.”
De Villiers also has little hope of the Sharks winning in Christchurch but is holding on to the ray of hope that they will be inspired by the influence of “Madiba Magic”. “The Crusaders have been outstanding and it will be a tough task. On the dawn of what would have been the 100th birthday of Tata Madiba hopefully that can inspire those guys to give so much more, to go so much further, to go so much faster and one extra effort and give a good performance on Saturday.”