Mitchell: Long way to go
Johannesburg - Although three victories in the competition and a 30-30 draw against the Sharks in Johannesburg on Saturday will be viewed as a great improvement on last year's winless season, Lions coach John Mitchell has made it clear that the hard work has just begun.
"We've got a very long way to go as an organisation," Mitchell said after the Lions' final match of their 2011 Super Rugby campaign.
"We are still very much a soft culture; we look to please rather than to strive to be the best.
"In saying that, we got away as a group, redirected and set our own goals, unified and just got on with it."
The Lions mentor now wants the union's management to follow suit.
"The challenge is for the people above us to become unified and give us the ability to become the best and support the method," said Mitchell.
"We need that stability, we need that leadership. People need to start leading and when we start leading, and we all start doing it together, who knows what we can achieve."
Mitchell's inexperienced squad produced another impressive performance against the Sharks, one of the few sides still in the hunt for a place in the playoffs.
After racing to a 30-9 lead, the hosts looked certain to record their first home win in more than two years, but a few key moments allowed the Sharks back into the match.
The first was the yellow card flyhalf Butch James received for a dangerous tackle.
The second - and this one had Mitchell's blood boiling - involved a run that Sharks eighthman Ryan Kankowski made from a turnover.
Kankowski's breakaway from inside his own 22 not only broke the Lions' momentum, but also brought the Sharks within striking distance of an important try.
Mitchell said the decision made by the touch judge was "average for this level" as replays indicated that Kankowski had crossed the touch line en route to the oposition's half of the field.
"The yellow card was also a cause [for losing the healthy lead], but you expect that when a player touches the line it is out," he said.
Looking back at what might have been, Mitchell said he was proud of the character his side showed against a Sharks forwards pack loaded with Springboks.
"We ended on the better side physically tonight and that shows that we can do it.
"The guys played from the heart tonight which is pleasing."
Mitchell said his squad had made a "huge step up" in their mental approach to the game.
"If you think that at the beginning of the season there were 11-odd boys who had never played Super Rugby, to now having actually experienced a campaign.
"I thing their ability to stay tight and to deal with the tough times are good signs."