Johan Ackermann. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Johan Ackermann. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

"It’s bigger than an All Blacks game‚" says Lions CE Rudolf Straeuli about Saturday’s Super Rugby final between the Lions and Crusaders at Ellis Park.

Straeuli confirmed that the 61,500 sellout crowd was a Super Rugby record for the ground, surpassing the 50,000 who attended the 2016 semifinal against the Highlanders. Saturday’s crowd will by extension also be a South African record for a Super Rugby match.

The ground was also sold out for the Super 10 final in 1993‚ the precursor to Super Rugby, which was launched in 1996.

Drawing such a large crowd to Ellis Park 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," he said, referring to a crush of spectators at the gate that left two people dead at the weekend.

However, very few travelling Crusaders fans (no‚ not those from Cape Town) will make the trip. The New Zealand government introduced visa requirements for South African travellers in 2016 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 and it also gives outgoing coach Johan Ackermann his departing wish.

Ackermann said after his team beat the Hurricanes in the semifinal on Saturday that he hoped the ground would be packed to capacity for his last match before he took 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 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 the people and memories I have every time I drive in here," Ackermann said.

"We aren’t holy but we want to praise the Lord for what he’s 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.

"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 an honour‚ even more so the final being at home," Ackermann said.


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