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    What's been the key to the Lions' success?

    2018-08-02 12:12

    Lloyd Burnard

    Cape Town - The Lions are being heavily tipped to lose their third straight Super Rugby final on Saturday. 

    They have never beaten the Crusaders in Christchurch while the New Zealand outfit has been a cut above the rest in this year's competition. 

    The Lions, though, do have the muscle and grit up front with the likes of Malcom Marx, Kwagga Smith and Franco Mostert operating, while they also possess attacking flair in abundance once the ball gets to their backs. 

    There would be nothing sweeter than an upset win for the Lions this weekend, but even if they fall short once more they have further solidified their status as South Africa's premier franchise. 

    No South African team, not even the Bulls of the late 2000s, has ever contested three Super Rugby finals in a row. 

    And while the change in competition format may have something to do with that, there is no doubting that the Lions have raced ahead of their South African counterparts in evolving and staying competitive in the modern game. 

    It was a process that started all the way back in November, 2012 after former coach John Mitchell had parted ways with the union.  

    Back then, the Lions had hit rock bottom after losing their place in Super Rugby for the 2013 season at the expense of the Southern Kings. 

    Under the radar, Johan Ackermann came in and steered the Lions into a new dawn through a series of seemingly irrelevant exhibition matches in 2013. 

    Something had started in Johannesburg, and when the Lions returned to Super Rugby in 2014 they were a side determined to improve. 

    They finished a lowly 12th in the standings that year, winning just seven of their 16 matches, but they moved up to 8th in 2015 and just missed out on a playoff spot. 

    They have not looked back since, and Ackermann guided them to final defeats in Wellington against the Hurricanes and the Crusaders in Johannesburg in 2016 and 2017, respectively. 

    "It was never one man's effort," Swys de Bruin, who took over from Ackermann as coach at the start of 2018, said.

    "It was inspired by a bunch of brothers who believe the same thing.

    "It started in November 2012. It was never about winning or losing at that stage, it was about changing things for the better, trying to score tries and making a difference in the way we play and in people's lives."

    Stepping into Ackermann's shoes would have been a daunting task for De Bruin, who has been an assistant at the franchise since 2012, and things didn't always go according to plan. 

    At the end of regular season, the Lions had already lost seven times. 

    "This season had its own trials and tribulations and we had a lot of injuries at the wrong times," De Bruin explained.

    "But all of those things build massive character. It's that character that pulled us through."

    For captain Warren Whiteley, Saturday's clash is the ultimate Super Rugby Test. 

    While the 30-year-old missed last year's final against the Crusaders and much of 2018 with injury, he remembers the pain of going down to the Hurricanes in the 2016 showpiece. 

    He, like many others, has been a part of the Lions revolution since the beginning. 

    "Patience is key. In our first season in Super Rugby we won seven or eight games and we slowly worked ourselves up, and then in that third season we started hitting our stride," he said of the journey post-2012. 

    "The big thing was the continuity we had, especially in South Africa where it's unheard of to keep a team together for so long.

    "That's indicative of the culture that we have. The guys want to stay and they want to be a part of this group. We just love what we do and this weekend is another huge opportunity."

    De Bruin is hoping that the experience of playing in back-to-back finals over the last two years will help the Lions this time around.

    "There was a lot of emotion attached last time and it was new for us over the last two years," he said.

    "Most of this group was involved in the past so it's a case of knowing what to expect ... we'll have to bring our A-game and more."

    Kick-off on Saturday is at 09:35 (SA time). 

    Teams:

    Crusaders

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

    Substitutes: 16 Sam Anderson-Heather, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor

    Lions

    15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrink, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen

    Substitutes: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 23 Howard Mnisi

     

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    Fixtures

    Friday, 28 February 2020
    • Highlanders v Rebels, Forsyth Barr Stadium 08:05
    • Waratahs v Lions, Bankwest Stadium 10:15
    Saturday, 29 February 2020
    • Hurricanes v Sunwolves, McLean Park 05:45
    • Reds v Sharks, Suncorp Stadium 10:15
    • Stormers v Blues, Cape Town 15:05
    • Bulls v Jaguares, Loftus Versfeld 17:15
    Friday, 06 March 2020
    • Crusaders v Reds, Orangetheory Stadium 08:05
    • Waratahs v Chiefs, WIN Stadium 10:15

    Results

    22 February 2020
    21 February 2020
    16 February 2020
    15 February 2020
    14 February 2020
    09 February 2020
    08 February 2020
    07 February 2020
    02 February 2020
    01 February 2020
    31 January 2020

    Logs

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    • Lions
    • Bulls

    Opinion Poll

    After 3 weeks of Super Rugby action, which South African team appears most likely to challenge for overall honours?

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