Swys de Bruin’s Lions need miracles he believes in
Lions coach Swys de Bruin will be praying for divine intervention when his charges embark on a journey many regard as "mission impossible".
They will travel to Christchurch and square up against the most garlanded team in the competition’s history in the Crusaders‚ who are red-hot favourites to win an unprecedented ninth title.
The Crusaders breezed through the league stages with ease and are on a 14-match unbeaten run after easily beating the Hurricanes in the semifinals.
The Crusaders are yet to lose a knock-out match on home soil and are laden with established and emerging All Blacks.
The Cantabrians have won eight of the 12 finals in which they have featured.
As for the Lions‚ who lost in the last two finals‚ the first in wet and windy Wellington and in 2017 on home soil against the Crusaders‚ the odds are as long as their journey.
They boarded a flight to Sydney on Monday before connecting onward to Christchurch‚ a venue at which the Crusaders are yet to lose a knock-out game in Super Rugby.
The Lions are‚ however‚ the last South African team to beat the Crusaders. They did that at Ellis Park in a 2016 quarterfinal.
The last South African team to win in Christchurch were the Sharks in 2014.
The Lions have inflicted a home defeat on the Crusaders but that was way back in 2001 in a match played in Nelson.
De Bruin seems undaunted.
"I believe in miracles‚" the coach said cheerily after his team beat the Waratahs 44-26 in the semifinals at Ellis Park.
"This team has proved anything can happen.
"It is still 80 minutes between four white lines. So it will be interesting. There are not too many weak spots there. We’ll have to find them."
The Lions lost the 2017 final on home soil with the occasion perhaps overshadowed by the imminent departure of former coach Johan Ackermann.
"I think it is vital not to make the occasion too big this time around‚" said De Bruin. "[There were] too many emotions and [it was] about individuals. It has to be about the team."
Ackermann’s departure‚ along with some senior players‚ meant De Bruin had to convince many doubters he could make the step up to head coach.
"I was down and out‚" he said. "Everyone said: ‘Ackers is gone‚ you’ve got no chance’. We lost our spine. We went through trials and tribulations like you can’t believe. It is just a miracle and a blessing the brotherhood stuck together.
"Losing players brought tough times. That makes the character so much better. Saturday‚ whatever happens will be a bonus.