JOHANNESBURG – The fate of the Lions is back in their own hands ... exactly what they would have wanted going into the final round of Super Rugby league matches this weekend.
A week ago coach Swys de Bruin was lamenting the fact the Lions had to rely on other results going their way if they were to win the SA Conference, but that is exactly what happened at the weekend – when the Lions enjoyed their bye – leaving the Joburg team simply having to win their final game on Saturday to book a home quarter-final.
The Jaguares’ loss to the Bulls at Loftus left the Argentine side on 38 points, three less than the Lions, who had a bye, with each team playing their final game this weekend. The Lions host the Bulls, while the Jaguares are in Durban to face the Sharks.
The permutations are simple: If the Lions win they will host a quarter-final next weekend; if they lose and the Jaguares win, then the Jaguares will host a quarter-final and the Lions will have to travel.
De Bruin and his men know though what they need to do – and that’s to win against their neighbours and former coach, John Mitchell.
The good news is that even though the Lions lost to the Sharks (in Durban) last time out - to end a 21-match unbeaten run against local sides - De Bruin’s team haven’t lost at home to a South African outfit since 2014. They will be the hot favourites again on Saturday, especially with all their Springbok stars back from injury and fit – and having enjoyed a week off.
No less than 12 Springboks from the last two years are set to run out for the Lions – among them Warren Whiteley and Malcolm Marx, who returned to action against the Sharks last week, and recent Boks Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Marvin Orie, Elton Jantjies and Aphiwe Dyantyi.
There will also be the not so small matter of several Lions players coming to the end of their careers with the franchise in the coming weeks before taking up contracts with overseas-based clubs and wanting to finish off on a high in Joburg.
Here one thinks of Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen, Andries Coetzee and Mostert, who are all on their way out of Joburg, while others like Lionel Mapoe and Elton Jantjies are rumoured to also be headed abroad. Jaco Kriel and Rohan Janse van Rensburg have also played their last games for the franchise.
There is also said to be some uncertainty around the future of head coach De Bruin, who helped out as Springbok attack coach in June and may be destined for a full-time position in Rassie Erasmus’ management team in future.
The Lions, while certain of playing in the quarter-finals – win or lose this weekend, will be desperate to get a home game to give themselves their best chance of making the semi-finals. They will, however, probably have to travel for a last-four clash, but may get lucky should the Brumbies upset the Waratahs in Sydney this weekend, which would give the Lions second place on the log – and a home semi-final, if they go that far.
The Lions played in home quarter-final and semi-final clashes in 2016 and 2017, but lost the finals in Wellington (2016) and at home, at Ellis Park, in 2017.