Unlike Crusaders, the Lions' journey a six-year odyssey

06 August 2017 - 00:00 By LIAM DEL CARME

The Lions and the Crusaders advanced their red armies to yesterday's Super Rugby final having suffered just one battlefield defeat all season.
Both have had to undergo revolution to attain near invincibility, but their journeys could not have been more different.
The Lions' has been a six-year odyssey, while the Saders, Super Rugby blue bloods, have wisely invested in a new strategist.
The Lions had to fight battles on and off the field to stay afloat.
As much as they would want to consign it to their distant past, the imbroglio that involved shareholders, sponsors, their banishment from Super Rugby and former coach John Mitchell, helped forge the team and the union to what it is today.
Union president Kevin de Klerk must have been exasperated but it is to his credit that he kept his head.
Altmann Allers became a significant shareholder, bringing not just business acumen but a rugby background.
Rudolf Straeuli joined the union as player recruitment and retention manager in 2013 but was appointed chief executive officer in May 2014.
Retention policy
His experience as player and coach at Bedford in England stood him in good stead. There, he experienced first-hand the vicissitudes of managing a club low in budget, high at risk of relegation.
With belts tightened, Straeuli and high- performance manager Bart Schoeman didn't have much room for error in identifying talent.
"We have to ensure we get the best players from the Golden Lions, the Leopards and Pumas into our system," Straeuli stressed after he was appointed.Faith and belief
"He was forwards coach then. It is not about him but the environment that he has created. He's played a massive role."
Ackermann has endowed his players with faith and belief, not just in a religious sense but, crucially, in each other.Ackermann has endowed his players with faith and belief, not just in a religious sense but, crucially, in each other.
"It's faith. It's crazy," enthused winger Courtnall Skosan about the trust the players have in each other. "There may be one moment in a game where you have to believe you can achieve something," he said about the team's seize-the-moment mentality.
In Warren Whiteley, Ackermann didn't just get a captain and a No8 that will walk the walk. He's run the extra mile.
Whiteley embodies the fighting spirit at the Lions of players who were discarded elsewhere. What Ackermann has created is a tribute to team-building.
While the Lions' revolution unavoidably threw up casualties, the Crusaders by comparison have been of the velvet variety.
Under amateur choreographer and surfing-mad coach Scott "Razor" Robertson, they found themselves at the top of the points table for most of the season.
Under the nonconformist coach they have played with greater freedom and seem not to be weighed down by the burden of expectation as seven-time champions.
"The main thing Razor and I have is being open. In a week, I'd hate to know how many conversations we have, whether it's five to 10 seconds or five to 10 minutes," said team captain Sam Whitelock.
"Our relationship has really grown. It took a little bit to work out how he wanted to be as a coach and how I wanted to lead. We've been working towards that the whole season and it's been very beneficial for myself."
delcarmel@sundaytimes.co.za

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.



Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.