Jozi jive: Lions rout doubters
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Josh Strauss (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Better get a bucket ... I am so bloated from humble pie that I feel like Mr Creosote on the brink of his notorious gastric eruption in the Monty Python movie.Gallery: Lions win the Currie Cup
Highlights: Currie Cup final
It was my wonderfully scientific suggestion ahead of the Absa Currie Cup final that the Sharks, fuelled by their phalanx of pneumatic-drill Springboks, would simply prove too strong for the Golden Lions and even retain the trophy at Coca-Cola Park with a bit to spare.
Well, that was about as wrong as I have been in a sporting forecast ... I certainly hope that broad expanse of error will not too quickly be eclipsed.
In fact, I’m liable for a double whammy of misguided thought because I had similarly anticipated a week ago that Josh Strauss’s largely unsung bunch of workhorses would not even overcome the hurdle of Western Province, similarly fielding several returning internationals, in the semis.
Instead, we all witnessed on Saturday evening arguably one of the best and most passionate instances in Currie Cup history of a team winning it not so much because they had the staffing to do so but because they “wanted it” with all their hearts.
As vice-captain Doppies la Grange so succinctly put it after the 42-16 feat (it was every bit that): “We’re just a bunch of ordinary guys working together.”
Make that a bunch of everyday blokes clearly also extremely competently coached – I would not be too surprised if the honchos at SA Rugby revisit for a few moments the thought of cheekily inquiring whether John Mitchell’s arm may yet be twisted in connection with the soon-to-be-vacant Bok job.
There will be rugby-related bedlam in the Big Smoke for the first time in a dozen years, and it will be wholly justifiable, given the Lions’ mastery on the log pretty much since the opening round in mid-July, when they got a mighty scare at home to the Pumas but narrowly overcame it and only prospered from there.
Having done the honourable grovel thing, let me suggest that not even the most ardent – make that long-suffering, too -- of Lions supporters would have budgeted on their waltzing in (Strauss waltz, geddit?) by as many as 26 points against a team hugely eclipsing them for collective Test caps.
In doing so, they achieved the most lopsided score-line in a final since 1980, when Northern Transvaal trounced Western Province at Loftus 39-9 after the visitors’ captain Morne du Plessis pulled out injured on the day of the match and 21-year-old rookie Charlie Marais had to suddenly fill his prestigious boots for an ultimately harrowing debut at No 8.
And as they had done all season, a commitment to a most genuine team ethic was primarily responsible for the Lions winning -- and even managing it with some style and swagger as it became apparent that opponents more like a “Barcelona” for presence of superstar individuals were going to be beaten off.
SuperSport pundit and former Bok flyhalf Joel Stransky got it right when he said: “It’s so difficult to pick a man of the match from this Lions team.”
In the end the diminutive Lions No 10, Elton Jantjies, was a perfectly credible recipient, only doing wonders on such a red-letter day to his chances of becoming the country’s pick in the position next season or beyond.
The young man from Graaff Reinet kicked his goals with Teutonic precision, not for the first time this year, but his general play was wonderful at times too ... he was instrumental in set-up work via deft, bamboozling footwork for at least one of the three Lions tries.
There have been periods when -- as has been the case with so many young sportsmen -- he is suspected to have fallen prey to believing his own press a tad too much and losing some drive, but a steel-eyed focus and devotion to duty has returned in recent weeks with a vengeance.
Such was the Lions’ bloody-minded desire to put the cherry on top of their wonderfully consistent domestic campaign that they gradually turned drawbacks into strengths over the course of the 80 memorable minutes – a notable example being the scrums, where they took much early trauma from the all-international Sharks front row but stabilised with some zeal and even had the satisfaction of seeing the likes of Beast Mtawarira penalised a few times for technical errors at the set-piece toward the end.
The Sharks had plenty of ball, and good tracts of territory in stages as well, and may well be scratching their heads as to how they managed to play second fiddle to such a gory extent on the board.
Maybe one or two of their World Cup returnees were just not as “amped” as they needed to have been for the final.
Either that or they just found the Lions’ all-embracing gusto, and a spirit and cohesion forged over many weeks and months, just too hard to repel on the day.
Now, back to that infernal cold pie for me ...