Lions-Crusaders thriller is ‘bigger than an All Blacks’ Test, Rudolf Straeuli says
"It’s bigger than an All Blacks game‚" said Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli, about Saturday’s Super Rugby final between the Lions and the Crusaders at Ellis Park.
Straeuli confirmed that the sold-out crowd of 61,500 was a Super Rugby record for the ground, surpassing the 50,000 supporters who attended last season’s semifinal against the Highlanders.
Saturday’s crowd will also be a South African record for a Super Rugby match.
The ground was also sold out for the Super10 final in 1993‚ the precursor to Super Rugby, which 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 and come 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 fans (no‚ not those from Cape Town) will make the trip, however.
Last year, the New Zealand government introduced visa requirements for South African travellers and the South African government‚ in a tit-for-tat move‚ has done the same.
Very few Crusaders fans would have been in possession of a South African visa once it became clear the final was going to be hosted 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.
After his team beat the Hurricanes in the semifinal, Ackermann said that he hoped the ground would be packed to capacity for his last match before he took up the coaching reins at Gloucester.
"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 on 2013‚ 2014‚ 2015 and where we came from, and 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.
Ackermann praised the contribution of every player, past and present, and thanked his family for his family.
"They 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 a honour‚ even more so at home."