It might sound crazy but it’s increasingly true: the Lions are the best Super Rugby team in South Africa. Jamie Wall looks at the side’s rise to the top of the standings and what that means for the looming playoffs.
It’s a long road to the Super Rugby title these days. But now it’s looking like the end of it is going to go through Johannesburg for whoever wants to take the 2016 edition.
Someone busted out a 40oz of courage in the Lions’ pre-season camp and the former joke team of Super Rugby are now standing atop the table. Given their schedule, they’re a pretty safe bet to finish the regular season in that position too.
Do they deserve it? Well, sort of.
They’ve had the benefit of getting two matches each against the disappointing Jaguares and disgraceful Kings, plus a gimme against the Sunwolves. They’ve also dropped home games against the Crusaders and Hurricanes, the latter in which they hemorrhaged 50 points. The one shining result of their season was an away win in Hamilton against the Chiefs, the team they now hold a one-point lead on overall.
The Chiefs are just one of four NZ teams within a bonus point victory of the Lions, but only two of them will make the playoffs – such is the way of the equal-opportunity (read: making more money by keeping the South Africans interested) conference system.
But let’s give the Lions a bit of credit here. After all, they are the team that invented being crap at Super Rugby.
In 20 editions of the competition, they’ve come last six times. They’ve come within three places of being of last nine more times.
Their list of men in charge would be Exhibit A in the case against why good players don’t automatically make good coaches. It could possibly be part of a wider trial indicting John Mitchell for his lifetime of crimes against rugby in general.
They’ve had several names in their existence: Transvaal, Gauteng, The Golden Cats, The Cats and finally the Lions. Ironically, it was under the laughable Golden Cats moniker that they had their most success, two consecutive Super 12 semi final appearances 15 very long seasons ago.
This is a team that once scored 65 points in a game and LOST.
Any Lions fan who’s stuck with the team along this endless road of despair deserves some sort of award for superhuman masochism. Given that, maybe we can cut the Lions a break here. So what if they haven’t had to play every New Zealand team twice? They’ve done it tough for long enough.
At the rate they’re going, they’ll most likely meet the Sharks (whom they’ve beaten twice already) then either the Waratahs or Brumbies in the playoffs. If they can win those matches, it’ll be all on against the last New Zealand team standing. They might even win.
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