Johannesburg - The massive scoreline may have fallen just two points short of the Super Rugby record points difference in the tournament, but Lions coach Johan Ackermann didn’t even know.
Not that it mattered on a night that the Sunwolves were decimated by a Lions roar that echoed far and wide across the tournament, and in the nature of the team that Ackermann coached, it wouldn’t have made a difference either.
Fourteen tries after the fact, Ackermann gave his first realisation that the time is becoming shorter, as he acknowledged that as his team head into the bye week ahead of the final phase of this year’s competition, that he was desperately trying to soak up everything into the memory banks.
It is understandable, especially as Ackermann’s emotional journey with the Lions has delivered so much, and will end at the end of Super Rugby in August, whatever happens to the team goal of winning the tournament.
A new challenge at Gloucester, a new team environment to build and so much to do at the new post, all of which must wait as the Lions prepare their final assault on the competition title.
Still, it was hard not to realise that the departure will be a much more emotional time for both the coaching staff and players than they are likely to let on, nor think about right at the moment.
“I’m trying to soak everything in,” Ackermann admitted.
“It started before the break and obviously on Saturday when I saw the guys playing the test, seeing the stadium full and knowing where we started this journey when I became the head coach.
“To see eight or nine of your guys playing in a Springbok jersey and then they come and show that loyalty and commitment to our goal. I hope I have a few more left here at home, but it is starting to run out and it is special memories.”
That journey hit another high note on Saturday night with Ackermann’s side lifting the conference trophy for the second time in two years, and will finish the top side on the one half of the competition, and if the Crusaders slip up, perhaps the top team in the competition as well.
It simply underlines the professionalism and team culture that is currently thriving at the Lions, that they are ready for almost any challenge, even when they lost their inspirational captain Warren Whiteley last week, it didn’t even raise eyebrows in the team.
The team could well have ended top if they had won in Buenos Aires earlier in the year, the only blot on the team sheet that is almost perfect at the moment. But like last season when Ackermann gambled with a B-team to South America, a gamble that backfired in that they needed to go to New Zealand to face the Hurricanes, he has always done it his way.
This year again there was a lighter gamble when he left four players back in South Africa, but either way, it isn’t something Ackermann is thinking about too much. Like much of the attitude in the team, it is about looking forward and doing what is necessary now.
And after the experience last year, there is a tinge of confidence in this team, even if they do have to go overseas to face a playoff or even final game.
“I still probably will get criticism about going to Buenos Aires this year and leaving three or four players behind, but on the night things didn’t go our way. There was one or two calls that could have been different and could have changed the result, but at the end of the day we still came back and still picked up good results,” Ackermann added.
“Some of the reasons were not by choice – Rohan Janse van Rensburg’s mother passed away - so it wasn’t by choice that he stayed behind. But regardless of what happened last year or this year, we had a plan before the season started and we knew what we needed to do. Now we’re one game away from either first or second. Whatever the result is, we’re in the playoffs, and that is when it will count.
“Our main goal now is to focus on the small things, if you start to worry what we need to do or could have been, then we will miss it. We have everything in our control now, we must make sure how we train and how we play, and hopefully somewhere the Crusaders will slip - either if it is not in the last game, it is in the playoffs. Then we can pack the stadium and get a game here but right now there is a lot of hard work before we can get to that.”
The Lions will enjoy the week’s rest before a tough game against the Sharks. But even though many a team would have picked an easier ride than Durban for their final game, this team is taking it in their stride.
And know that when they’re back in action, the final weeks of the competition await.
And that is what they’re really looking forward to.
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