Kriel: Final result won't define this team

    2017-08-04 08:33

    Lloyd Burnard - Johannesburg

    Johannesburg - The stereotypical Hollywood sports movie sees a coach join a group of misfits and, through a period of ups, downs and greater life lessons, he transforms them into a championship winning side. 

    The Lions story of the last five years ticks all of those Tinseltown boxes, except they aren't a championship winning side just yet.  

    Having taken over at Ellis Park when the Lions were at their lowest of lows having just been relegated from Super Rugby, coach Johan Ackermann set about making things right. 

    He turned the Lions into an attacking unit that played eye-catching rugby, but off the field he prioritised brotherhood, respect, love and faith. 

    Five years later, the Lions are the leading team in South African rugby by a massive distance and, after Saturday, they could be the leading team in the competition. 

    The disappointment of losing last year's final to the Hurricanes in Wellington is still there for a number of the players who were involved in that match, and with this being Ackermann's final game in charge, it feels like it is meant to be on Saturday. 

    At this stage, it is hard to predict what would be greater: the elation of winning or the disappointment of losing. 

    Either way, captain Jaco Kriel says that the result on Saturday will not change what the Lions have achieved under Ackermann over the past five years.

    "I don't believe it defines the side at all. If you look at the journey we've been through the last couple of years, you can't define a side from one game," he said from Ellis Park on Thursday.

    "I believe you have to look at the last four years and the team building, the guys caring for each other and building a brotherhood. That love for each other is unbelievable."

    But it is hard to ignore the 'fairy-tale' component to this match. 

    In both of their play-off matches, the Lions were staring a tournament exit in the face. 

    Against the Sharks in the quarter-finals, they needed a last-gasp Ruan Combrinck penalty to save them while, against the Hurricanes in the semi-finals, they were 22-3 down and needed a miraculous comeback. 

    Both of those matches provided Hollywood moments; the last-second victory and the comeback from an unwinnable position.

    "We can learn a lot from the quarter-final and the semi-final," said Kriel.

    "We didn't play well in the quarter-final and in the semi-final we only played rugby in the second half. The ideal would be to have a good start this weekend."

    The stage is certainly set. 62 000 people will pack into Ellis Park for this one, with the atmosphere created by that number of people providing its own challenges.

    "The vibe last weekend was unbelievable. The crowd lifted us and when they get behind the team, the team gets some energy out of it," said Kriel.

    "It's going to be the first time a lot of players play in front of a full Ellis Park ... it's going to be difficult for communication purposes on the field.

    "You have to take it in and enjoy it, but you also have to be switched on.

    "The players are so excited to embrace this opportunity and enjoy it. You get one shot at it ... there are no second chances."

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    15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen

    Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza


    15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody

    Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge

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