JOHANNESBURG — Their 27-22 victory over the defending Super Rugby champion Waratahs in Johannesburg on Saturday set the standard for future Lions performances.
Inspirational Lions captain Warren Whiteley said his side faced one of their biggest tests this season, which they passed with flying colours to romp to their ninth victory in the competition.
“This was a huge challenge for us and we have a lot of respect for the Waratahs and what they’ve achieved being the defending champions and also one of the front runners in the competition,” Whiteley said.
“This definitely upped our belief again and we set a standard tonight, this must be one of our best performances this year.
“Now we have to keep this standard, that is really important, we need to stay consistent.”
The Lions produced a superb first half of rugby where wing Ruan Combrinck scored a brace of tries that gave his side a 17-10 lead going into the half-time break.
Just two years after being relegated from Super Rugby, the Lions are now two points off a playoff berth with a seventh place on the overall log.
Although Stormers fans are already licking their lips over the prospect of a home semi-final, the Lions could spoil their party when they face each other in Cape Town on Saturday.
The Johannesburg franchise have a bye in the final weekend of the regular competition and even if they beat the Stormers next weekend, they could fall desperately short of the playoffs.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes if his side produce a similar performance against the Stormers, they could come out on top.
“If we can play with the same intensity then hopefully we can be in for a shout but the small little mistakes were still there if I have to be critical about the performance,” Ackermann said.
“It is going to be a massive challenge against the Stormers side that I still think is the favourite to get into the playoffs.
The Lions allowed the Waratahs to fight back from 27-10 down, leaking two tries in a space of six minutes to Adam Ashley-Cooper and Rob Horne.
The hosts made it difficult for themselves to close the game in the final stages with flyhalf Elton Jantjies missing three shots at goal.
Ackermann said the match went according to the script as they were looking to start the match with flurry to hold an early advantage over the tourists.
“Credit to Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira [assistant coaches], everybody in their different areas had a plan and it was perfect especially when we received kicks our plans worked to perfection,” Ackermann said.
“A lot of the credit must go to the players and my assistant coaches for the effort they’ve put in and analysis.
“That created the good start for us, the reward of those first points on the board.”