By: Bunny (Jacques Nortier)
A great season can become the perfect season for the Golden Lions when they host the defending Champions Western Province on Saturday for the ABSA Currie Cup title.
It is almost unreal to think three years back the Golden Lions Rugby union was facing there biggest challenge in modern day rugby when they were left out of the Super Rugby competition to make a place for the EP Kings.
Many people said at the time that it will be the end of the union and that the Lions will never be able to get back to the proud union they once were…..How wrong were those people and that includes present company.
What have been done by Kevin De Klerk and his union is no shorter than remarkable and it has made the union a much stronger entity and it shows with the players, coaches and management.
This was not a short quick fix for De Klerk and his team but it took a few years with some hard decisions that needed to be taken at crucial stages for the union to be where they are today.
If one thinks back the Lions have been on the receiving end for a few times in the last couple of years.
In 2008 former Springbok and Lions lock Kevin De Klerk became the president of GLRU which saw major changes starting to happen in the union. The Lions really struggled to keep their stars with the Blue Bulls and the Sharks dominating South African rugby from 2000 and more players moving to Europe for the big pay cheques.
From 2000 the Lions started to loose players like; Andre Vos, Rassie Erasmus, Joe Gillingham, Andre Pretorius, Willie Wepener, Ethienne Reyneke, Thinus Delport, Schalk Brits, Wikus van Heerden, Gcobani Bobo, Conrad Jantjies, Gehard Mostert, Anton van Zyl, Enrico Januarie with players like Kockot got lost in the system.
The Lions also lost players like Jacque Fourie, Willem Alberts and Louis Ludik even thou they had still contracts with the union.
The Lions finished sixth in 2009 Currie Cup losing six games by less than 7 points with a more physical conditioning and defence being a focus. In 2009 Dick Muir was appointed Director of Rugby to overlook all structures at the Lions and taking charge of the Super 14 team with Coetzee and Johan Ackerman appointed as his assistants.
This would have been the first bit of Ackerman involvement with the union.
The 2010 Super 14 was not a great year in Lions rugby history as they lost all 13 games of the season setting a new record which the Bulls had before them with 0 wins in 11 games in 2002. This seemed to be the start of the turn for the Lions union.
Ivor Ichikowitz and Robert Gumede pledged to purchase a 49.9% stake in the club through their investment company GumaTac in October 2010. The deal fell apart in 2011 due to differences with GLRU executives.
After finishing bottom of the Super Rugby table, SARU officials voted in August 2012 to relegate the Lions to make way for the Southern Kings.
What must have been seen today as a master plan the GLRU launched a schedule of 16 games called the 2013 Lions Challenge Series. The series began in January against Russia and concluded in July. This was followed by a Super Rugby promotion / relegation play-off matches against the Kings. At the launch of the series President Kevin de Klerk said: “We took major umbrage to the decision made in Cape Town last year to relegate us, and the easy route would have been to play the blame game and look for scapegoats… But we have decided to get on with the rugby and ensure we continue to serve our stakeholders.”
The Lions ended up winning the promotion match-up with the Southern Kings and got promoted back into the Super Rugby for 2014.
Ackermann originally was the forwards coach took over as head coach after Mitchel left the Union. He has seen huge success as coach of the Union including winning the SARU Coach of the Year award in 2014, his first year as head coach.
The Lions have been building there union and team to one of the most exciting teams in South Africa and surprised most this year with their Super Rugby campaign just missing out for a spot in the play-offs.
What De Klerk in the boardrooms and Ackermann with his team have done for this team and union the past few years is just an unbelievable story and the Cherrie on top will be the reward of the Currie Cup trophy on Saturday.
After last year’s disappointment against Province in the final the Lions have come out even stronger this year with a clean sheet so far in the competition. They will only become the second team in the competition history to achieve the tag of 100% wins in a season if they can beat Province in the final.
Beside the fact that the Lions have become any other supporter in South African second team, even the most loyal Province supporter will not mind if the Lions “Roar” on Saturday and take the title.