Lions go for the jugular

Visiting New Zealand giants Crusaders will play before a 61500 sellout crowd in Saturday's Super Rugby final at Ellis Park

02 August 2017 - 07:40
By Liam Del Carme
Image: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images "This is the first time in my time here that the ground has been sold out on a Monday. It's bigger than an All Blacks Test," said Lions chief executive officer Rudolf Straeuli.

"It's bigger than an All Blacks game," said Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli about Saturday's Super Rugby final between the Lions and the Crusaders at Ellis Park.

Straeuli confirmed the 61500 sellout crowd is a Super Rugby record for the Johannesburg ground, surpassing the 50000 supporters who attended last season's semifinal against the Highlanders.

The crowd will by extension also be a South African record for a Super Rugby match.

Ellis Park was also sold out for the Super 10 final in 1993, the precursor to Super Rugby, which was launched in 1996.

Drawing a large crowd does, however, present logistical challenges.

"This is the first time in my time here that the ground has been sold out on a Monday. It's bigger than an All Blacks Test," Straeuli said.

"With a crowd like that we'll have to get in extra security. People must also try to come in early.

"They must beat the traffic. We don't want a late rush and we can't have a repeat of what happened at FNB Stadium."

Very few travelling Crusaders supporters (no, not those from Cape Town) will make the trip, however.

The New Zealand government introduced visa requirements last year for South African travellers and the South African government, in a tit-for-tat move, has done the same.

Very few Crusaders followers would have been in possession of a South African visa once it became clear the final was going to be played in Johannesburg.

Naturally, the Lions are thrilled to have the "full house" signs go up early in the week and it also gives outgoing coach Johan Ackermann his departing wish.

Ackermann said on Saturday after his team beat the Hurricanes in the semifinal that he hoped the ground would be packed to capacity for his last match before he takes up the coaching reins at Gloucester in England.

"It will be very similar," he said about his emotions this week. "When I thought about it and when I wished the players well for the semifinal, I knew time was running out for me.

"I think back to 2013, 2014, 2015 and where we came from and to where we are now. That makes it special.

"There are a lot of people to thank. My whole management team, the people behind the scenes who cut the grass, the administrative personnel, these are people and memories I have every time I drive in here.

"We aren't holy but we want to praise the Lord for what He has done. That promise and the path we walked since then.

"Also every player's contribution, those who came and left. Those emotions go through me. The biggest thing for me is my family, who have walked this journey with me, the highlights and the disappointments.

"[My family] live through all the emotions. Now we have one game left and I can sit back, take it in and appreciate it. It will be a big day and it is an honour, even more so at home."