JOHANNESBURG - A long-haul flight, across several time zones, jet-lag and fatigue, and an opponent that hardly ever loses at home and is widely regarded the best provincial outfit in the world. That’s what the Lions are up against this coming weekend in their attempts to be crowned the northern hemisphere’s best provincial side.
Unfortunately for coach Swys de Bruin and Co they have been unable to get onto a late flight to New Zealand this week, as they did earlier in the Super Rugby campaign, in an effort to beat jet-lag. On that occasion, in April, the Lions arrived in Sydney two days before their first tour match against the Waratahs, and they ran out convincing and surprising 29-0 winners.
This time - ahead of the Super Rugby final against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday - they will leave to New Zealand on Monday night, and may not be in a position to counter the effects of travelling across several time zones in the next 48 hours. “This time it’s a bit further on in the time zones as well; two more than where Sydney is, said De Bruin after his side qualified for a third straight final by beating the Waratahs at the weekend. The Crusaders beat the Hurricanes in their last-four clash.
It’s a long haul flight the Lions have to catch later on Monday - from OR Tambo International to Sydney in Australia, a flight almost 12 hours in duration, and then another three hours in the air from Sydney to Christchurch. The Lions would also cross 10 time zones in that time; two more than Sydney ... where the Lions landed first earlier this year, and where they won first-up too.
No matter how confident the Lions are ahead of the final, it remains a big ask for the team - or any team - going to AMI Stadium and winning. In their last 27 home games in the last three seasons, the Crusaders have lost just twice - both in the 2016 season, to the Chiefs and Hurricanes. Last year they had nine home wins without defeat and this year, before the final game, they have gone 10 home matches without a loss.
Going into the week with an open mind, focused attitude and grateful heart!
Thank you to everyone who has been there for me during my 10 years at the Lions!
One more game to go!
👊🏼👊🏼👊🏼 #Lions #FinalsWeek #TeamLions #bittersweet @LionsRugbyCo pic.twitter.com/EJC3uquJZz
Also, no team other than the Crusaders - who did it last year when they won at Ellis Park in the final - has ever crossed the Indian Ocean and won a Super Rugby final. De Bruin said the Lions would do most of their preparations for the final in familiar sur-roundings in Joburg on Monday before flying out and he’ll hope for some good news regarding the injuries suffered by Cyle Brink and Aphiwe Dyantyi in recent days.
Powerful blindside flank Brink hurt his shoulder in the quarter-final against the Jaguares and didn’t play against the Waratahs on Saturday while wing Dyantyi, who scored a spectacular try against the Tahs at the weekend, didn’t finish the game because of a hamstring problem. De Bruin is expected to make a call on the availability of these two players on Monday, but if they are ruled out he has quality cover in the form of Marnus Schoeman and Courtnall Skosan, who both enjoyed good outings from off the bench at the weekend.