Reaching one final is a great achievement. Reaching a second, is fantastic. But if you confirm your place in a third consecutive Super Rugby Grand Final, then it deserves ‘full credit’. And it has been accomplished by the Emirates Lions.
The Lions from the South African conference [in 2018] are the leading lights of that region. Very much on par, with the New Zealand and especially the Australian sides. Their 44-26 win over the NSW Waratahs on Saturday, is proving that the form African side is entering the Finals Series is warranted; and admired by many more than New Zealand media may portray.
Emirates Lions deserve ‘full credit’ after reaching Grand Final [again]
While the feeling after the semi-final is more positive than a week earlier, it is also realistic about how the franchise has been [and is] seen abroad. Last week, when questions about some ‘opinion reports’ by New Zealand and Super Rugby columnists, head coach Swys de Bruin was honest.
“That is their perception. All I can tell you is that we never moan about travelling four weeks. They travel two. It makes a helluva difference. Go look at our results in week three and week four overseas,” he responded to South African media.
Although, in retrospect, after the well deserved semi-final win, that any questions would have been answered. But the inference is quite moot. Any team who can claim their own conference lead, and then withstand an Highlanders challenge  and a Hurricanes one  before last weeks triumph, is more adequate than most.
that discussion; considering points or tournament format, is negated.
de Bruin continued, “Hell‚ sport is an interesting thing. It can’t always be the ref‚ or this‚ or that‚ or the competition format‚ or injuries. You’ve got to play the hand that is dealt for you.”
Lions results now point to team ‘earning place fair and square’
After the victory on-the-field, the fans and supporters of the South African team have turned their attention fairly on the task at hand. Probably one of the toughest in world rugby – defeating the Crusaders at home.
With the squad in-bound, arriving with a couple of valuable days preparation, the side will rely on good habits of acclimatizing quickly. This is a task that de Bruin and all the other three South African, and fantastically in 2018 by the Jaguares, franchises need to become more accomplished at. Success may come less often than an New Zealand team [travel schedule not withstanding], but it is from their effort by merit, rather than from reputation and format alone.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) July 31, 2018
What the Lions want to repair in 2018, is the image of a team in 2016 seemed ‘out of their depth’. That Johan Ackermann was unable to buoy his men after making the Grand Final, but the final encounter was above them. Five-eighth Elton Jantjies failed in his execution, even though in 2018 he is now seen as being ‘more mature’.
2018 version of Lions a side to Respect
Those two seasons will also have helped develop Jantjies, Warren Whiteley and most noticeably, Malcolm Marx (see main picture). Seen as the epitome of Gauteng power center. His strength, skillset and mentality is very much in line with that of his contemporaries. A style much like a Kiwi, with self confidence and controlled aggression that makes him fearsome and a challenge.
As will fast wing Aphiwe Dyantyi (see picture below). The blistering pace and ability of the player; in his first Super Rugby season, was illustrated by his chip-and-chase, to score when the home side needed it most. A key player, Dyantyi and strongman Cyle Brink were passed fit to travel. It means the team will have much in their favour, come Saturday night. But even with such firepower, it will be a case of ‘holding their ammunition in check’.
“It’s vital that we don’t make the occasion too big, that we don’t focus on individuals … it must be about the team only, and we’re going to have to stick to what has worked for us,” added De Bruin.
The onus from the Lions maybe to keep the teams feet on the ground. To be be humble and be aware of the occasion. They will be respectful of the Crusaders record, and of the fearsome crowd support.
But when it comes to respect, that must be a two-way streak. That the host is favourable of the credentials of the guest. The Emirates Lions are a credible opponent, no doubt. They are repeat finalists and in 2018, the South African side might well find that ‘golden formula’ to turn a placing, into a finals crowning!
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images