Setbacks build staying power

Win or lose, the Lions are a brilliant bunch of people

03 August 2017 - 07:27
By Brendan Venter
SHEER GRIT The Lions' Elton Jantjies sells Ricky Riccitelli of the Hurricanes a dummy during the Super Rugby semifinal Ellis Park on Saturday.
Image: Christiaan Kotze/AFP SHEER GRIT The Lions' Elton Jantjies sells Ricky Riccitelli of the Hurricanes a dummy during the Super Rugby semifinal Ellis Park on Saturday.

The Lions delivered an impressive performance against the Hurricanes at Ellis Park on Saturday to reach their second Super Rugby final in as many years. It was great to watch, and kudos to them for pulling off one of the finest comebacks in Super Rugby history.

Sport has a wonderful way of repeatedly challenging the way we see the world, and the upcoming final between the Lions and Crusaders on Saturday is the ultimate example of this. The Lions appeared to be dead and buried, having been relegated from Super Rugby in 2013. However, as they have shown, true character is only revealed when things go wrong. To backslap and tell each other how awesome you are and how great the environment is while you are winning counts for nothing. Defeat and setbacks build fortitude.

Since their return to the competition, the Lions have slowly but surely climbed the ladder of success. After the final, the Johan Ackermann era will be over and Syws de Bruin will commence a new chapter as head coach. The Lions will argue that they are going to retain the majority of their players, but the reality is the team that takes to the field on Saturday will never be the same again.

My wish for the Lions, ahead of their biggest match in recent history, is to look at themselves and acknowledge that, win or lose, they are a brilliant bunch of people.

When you are purely results-driven you can lose so much and I don't want them to fall into that trap. Long after everything is gone, trophies and medals on the mantelpiece are worth nothing. It's the memories you make, the way you treat each other and the friendships you forge that will stand the test of time. People are more important than we could ever begin to imagine when it comes to sport.

It's why I felt so strongly that Elton Jantjies shouldn't have been substituted in the quarterfinal against the Sharks. I will gladly substitute a player if he is showing a lack of effort, but I never criticise my men when they commit skill errors. It's a faulty thought process to suggest that sacrificing Elton for the team equalled a victory.

Against the Hurricanes, Elton turned in a strong performance and evoked the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt's famous speech: "It is not the critic who counts . The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

Critics must always ask themselves: Have I ever been in the arena and do I understand what it's actually like to be the doer of deeds? When ill-informed people deliver criticism that is sensationalist and venomous, they are discredited in the eyes of sportsmen.

The final, which will be played in front of a capacity crowd, will be a good game because the Crusaders are a top-quality team. They can defend and they have a well-functioning set-piece. Moreover, much like Ackermann, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has moulded his team into a band of brothers that play for each other. The Lions will be outright favourites to win on their home patch on Saturday, but this Crusaders side will refuse to roll over and die.