Johannesburg - The Lions believe they have enough confidence “in the tank” to live up to the overwhelming expectation for them to produce another exceptional performance in this weekend’s Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final against the defending champion Highlanders at Ellis Park.
According to the SuperSport website, and their victories lately over New Zealand teams - especially the manner they dispatched the Crusaders last weekend in the quarter-final playoff has left a number of players brimming with confidence, including their talismanic wing Ruan Combrinck.
Combrinck is a massive character in the Lions story and epitomises their rise in a manner that few others do. All passion and pride the winger echoes the levels of excitement in the team at being in the semi-final and the realisation that they are just two good performances away from achieving their dream.
The blonde wing doesn’t mince words when he talks, and believes his team’s confidence got a vital boost ahead of the semi-final showdown with the defending champs.
“It was a massive win for us, not that any other game wasn’t. I must say you gain a lot of confidence when you do well against a New Zealand side, because New Zealand is just such a smart rugby nation,” Combrinck explains.
“Physically they will always front up, and mentally they always have the edge over every other country and it is no secret why the All Blacks have done so well. They are obviously doing something right and to do well against a team that is littered with All Blacks, you do gain a lot of confidence out of that and take that into the next week.”
The fact the Lions were soundly beaten in their league game against the same opposition means little now other than something for the record books. This Lions team had, by their own admission, an off day and have improved significantly. This time they are at home as well, and that evens the scales more than anything else since the March match.
“I think the Highlanders outsmarted us last time, they outworked us and outplayed us. Maybe we had a mindset of one foot on the plane. The whole game was just flat. I can’t tap into what it was, but I suppose it is like any job when you rock up the one day and nobody is really there,” Combrinck says.
“Everyone is there but nobody is really there. That was the case and obviously gaining confidence from the quarter-final, being at home and knowing that this is a must win will take a lot of that away that happened against the Highlanders there.
“The difference in that game was if you lose you play next week again. I wouldn’t say we wanted to lose, but we spoke about pressure and there is added pressure to this game and that makes it so much more exciting and so much more that you can’t slip up.
“Like I said at the Boks, you’ve got to catch a cannon ball for your country and this feels almost the same.”
Combrinck believes the confidence is high in the team at the moment, and they will certainly back themselves against a side brimming with All Blacks. But more than that, he believes this Lions’ team needs to ensure what they do on the field is exceptional, and then it won’t matter what the Highlanders come up with.
“I believe there is enough confidence in our team to do well. The Highlanders have an awesome team, not just the backs, but you mention the names and they are there. With confidence and with so much x-factor in you and with everyone having played two, three years with each other, you tend to focus on what you have to do and all your processes,” he adds.
“Obviously you think about them and prepare as best as you can, but you run your own race. It takes off a lot of pressure and you focus on your own processes and own goals.
“It’s like Usain Bolt, he runs against the record and everyone else runs against Usain Bolt. So try and create that mindset. We’re running our own race here. We will not worry too much about individuals in other teams.”
But the winger says the Lions have taken a few lessons from the defending champs, and hopefully it will show how it has been incorporated into their game this weekend.
“The most amazing thing about the Highlanders in the last two, three years is that they’ve never given up. Last year they had to play in Sydney for the semi, and then had to play in Wellington in the final and they showed everything is possible.
“They won away from home against the defending champions, the Waratahs, so they have a massive never-say-die attitude and almost a desperate game plan where losing is not an option.
“You can learn a lot from that and I’m sure we’ve figured out our own way of doing things this year, and we learnt a lot from them, that desperation to win. Because this is why you play rugby.”
Read the story on SuperSport