Lions rewarded for determination
Lions coach Johan Ackermann says their best-ever Super Rugby season was a testament to the players' dogged determination.
The Lions 2014 campaign came to an emphatic climax with their biggest victory yet, a 60-25 rout of the Cheetahs in Johannesburg on Saturday.
"We are thankful and grateful for the win... it is good to see everything come together and a lot of hard work went in from the players. They were always positive at trainings and even before that patch before tour and on tour," said Ackermann.
He said the team's success came courtesy of camaraderie instead of the influence of individual superstars.
"There will be mistakes and one has to accept that, but if you ask players to play with commitment, passion and pride and they put in the work, then you can't ask for more."
The Lions were in rampant form on Saturday evening, running in eight tries to the three from the Cheetahs.
Winger Lionel Mapoe caused the most damage as he grabbed a hat-trick of tries. Ross Cronje, Robbie Coetzee, Warren Whiteley, Andries Coetzee and Corne Fourie also crossed the whitewash.
Match referee Marius van der Westhuizen also had a hand in the match, dishing out four yellow cards, with three going to the Cheetahs and one to the Lions.
The visitors from Bloemfontein ultimately played with 14 men for half-an-hour of the match. At one point they only had 13 men on the field.
While Cheetahs' coach Naka Drotske was unhappy with the yellow cards, he bemoaned the amount of penalties his side conceded.
"It is impossible to play rugby if you concede 19 penalties to five and three yellow cards," Drotske said.
Only a year ago the Lions were in limbo after spending a year in the Super Rugby wilderness. They however silenced their critics in the best possible way by recording their seventh win of the season for a 12th place finish on the overall log.
For the Cheetahs this year was a polar opposite of last year, going from featuring in the playoffs in 2012 to being South Africa's weakest franchise, finishing 14th on the ladder.
The last two weeks were a sample of the Cheetahs' season as they produced possibly their best performance of the year a week ago with a defeat over the pace-setting Sharks, to Saturday's demolition at the hands of the Lions.
Ackermann said although they would be losing players to other unions and clubs, they were in a healthier position compared to the other South African franchises.
"We've got our challenges where there are obviously players that are hunted by other unions and hopefully we can hang onto them," he said.
"We've got the core of the group signed up and ready to go next year. Hopefully we can build on what we achieved this season.
"As we've seen with the Cheetahs, the Reds and the Chiefs, it will be a new challenge and you can't rely on what you achieved in the previous year. The one year you can be at the bottom and the next year you are at the top."