Band of brothers does it for Lions
The pre-season notion that the Lions had shot their bolt and will slide into decline didn't stand up well as they powered to a 26-19 Super Rugby opening win over the Sharks.
Sure‚ they weren't the slick operators that surged to the last two finals‚ but tellingly they again showed the character and wherewithal that proved the bedrock of their two most recent campaigns.
“We went into this game a little underdone‚” reminded coach Swys de Bruin.
“We asked for character and that came through.”
Captain Warren Whiteley nodded in agreement.
“The guys showed great character to keep them out. We scraped through but we know there is still a lot of hard work ahead.”
It is when bodies forcefully collide when character is most tested.
It was on the back of a dominant scrum and unremitting defence that the Lions eventually quelled the persistent‚ but error prone visitors.
“The boys scrummed well‚” said De Bruin.
“They planned hard in the week‚ especially when they realised the Sharks were going to come with a big scrum‚ with Beast (Mtawarira) on the bench.
"That was the plan and the guys did well.”
In the build up to his 50th Super Rugby match Lions loosehead prop Jacques van Rooyen talked about how he relished going up against Thomas du Toit who has reverted to tighthead.
Van Rooyen gave the Sharks tyro a working over.
The Lions displayed similar robustness in their defence.
“One thing about this team. When the chips are down they fight. I love the brotherhood. They showed they are brothers‚” noted De Bruin.
Whiteley however lamented the moments when the Lions invited pressure onto themselves. Routinely conceding line-out possession and dropping a kick-in almost on your own tryline can prove deflating.
“We knew it was going to be a high pressure game‚” said Whiteley.
“We put ourselves under pressure a lot of the time. We were our worst enemy. I'm proud of the guys‚ especially towards the end.”
If there were questions about the Lions' ability to transition into the new season with the same verve and vigour they displayed over the last two campaigns‚ part of the answer was always going to reveal itself in the players they now introduce to the big league.
Left wing Aphiwe Dyantyi didn't have a lot of opportunities‚ but when they came he grabbed it as if he had been waiting for the ball all his young life.
“Aphiwe is a guy you guys can watch. Unreal guy and a team player. He's the future‚” De Bruin said in almost understated tone.
Ultimately‚ when under the cosh the Lions found a way of rolling with the punches.
They were also a little sharper when presented with opportunity.
“The attack was lovely‚ the backs ran well‚” said the coach.
“When Hacjivah (Dayimani) came on and stole that ball‚ he doesn't know how big that was. The same with Marnus Schoeman under our poles.
"If you can win those small margin calls you're happy‚” beamed the coach.
He was particularly pleased about putting one over a franchise where he once was a long serving coach.
“Warren is from the Bluff‚ I lived there for 12 years and I think Rudolf Straeuli (Lions chief executive) still owns half of Durban.
"It is very sweet to beat the Sharks‚ I must admit.”